Friday, May 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

What You Need To Know: This charming middle grade fantasy combines unique characters with Levine's trademark world-building skill.

Summary:  Elodie is a poor farmer's daughter, who leaves her impoverished, but loving,  home for the city of Two Castles.  Under orders to become an apprentice weaver, Elodie instead seeks to become a mansioner, or actor.  Broke, unused to city life and desperate, Elodie soon attracts the attention of Mastress Meenore, the dragon who lives in Two Castles.  Meenore makes her living selling roasted skewers, but is also a master of deductive reasoning, and solves all types of problems.  Having few other options, Elodie apprentices to Meenore, and soon makes the acquaintance of the ogre Count Jonty Um.  The Count is kind and gentle, but greatly feared. When Jonty Um seeks Meenore's help, Elodie finds herself in the thick of of a mystery. 

What Worked:  This book is so unique, I can think of few other things to compare it too. It crosses genres, plays with fairytale tropes and introduces flawed, but likeable characters.  a It's a fantasy, with dragons, ogres, wicked kings and magic.   It is a mystery, as someone wants to be rid of the Ogre Count, and no-one is what they seem.  It is a coming of age novel, as Elodie learns what work she is best suited for.  

One of my favorite things about this book is how it twists the rules of a fairy tale.  Count Jonty Um, the ogre, seems monstrous. However, he is generous, loves animals, and is kind to Elodie.     The dragon Meenore, although wise, is not beautiful and all powerful.  Instead, Meenore smells like rotten eggs and makes a living heating water and cooking food.   There is a handsome lad, and a princess, but nothing and no-one is as they seem.  

Elodie is a great character, naive but not foolish, head strong, clever and willing to learn from her mistakes.  ITself, Meenore, is also a fantastic character.  Dragons do not reveal their gender, and the Mastress is no exception.  Brilliant but petulant, Meenore teaches Elodie far more than the girl first realizes.  

What Didn't:  Honestly, I think this book was just about perfect.  However, if you were looking for a more traditional fairy tale, this book would just seem odd to you.  

Who Would I Give This Book To: This title skews a little younger than what I normally review, and would best suit a middle grade audience.  Fans of fractured fairy tales, strong girls, and Levine's other books will eat this up.  

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