I just finished Gail Carson Levine’s latest book, A Tale of Two Castles. I feel something of a personal attachment to this one–I read her blog with great dedication, and she’s been talking about this one coming out. She’s also been talking about her travails right now with writing the sequel.
So I admit I was predisposed to like this one. And it really is a fun, sweet tale. It’s the story of Elodie, a poor farmer’s daughter who comes to the big city of Two Castles hoping to apprentice as a mansioner, an actress. When she can’t pay for her apprenticeship, she ends up instead as assistant to the local dragon, and finds herself enmeshed in a mystery surrounding the local royalty and the local ogre. Someone is threatening Count Jonty Um the ogre, and he enlists the dragon and Elodie to investigate.
I particularly enjoyed the dragon and the ogre. Meenore the dragon is a detective, occasionally in the mold of Sherlock Holmes, as well as a rather creative entrepreneur, selling toasted food and heating up the blacksmith’s fire. Meenore is referred to throughout the book as IT, rather than he or she. Dragons apparently have gender, but don’t share the details on what he or she is, so the appropriate pronoun is IT. I think this is a clever device that then got overused a bit, to the point that I nearly forgot Meenore had a name, IT’s referred to so often as IT. But I like the dragon, and ITs gradually warming relationship with Elodie.
I also like the shapeshifting ogre, usually referred to as His Lordship. I have a soft spot for characters who are feared and misunderstood by the people around them just because they’re different. It’s that Phantom of the Opera thing. His Lordship is kind and shy, but the people of Two Castles can’t seem to get past the fact of his ogreness.
Elodie herself is a pretty good character. She’s only twelve, and sometimes it feels like it. She goes off on flights of guessing about the possible solution to the mystery. These often feel far-fetched, and I can’t quite tell if we’re meant to take them seriously, or if we’re meant to interpret them as Elodie having a wild imagination. But aside from that she’s a pleasant girl trying to make her way in the world and do the right thing, who grows in her role as dragon’s assistant.
My library copy of this is labeled “Mystery,” and I suppose it is one, but it doesn’t really feel like it to me. I wouldn’t recommend thinking too hard about the mystery. If you focus instead on the book as Elodie’s adventures, which involve some mysterious happenings to solve, I think you’ll get on better.
If you’ve never read Gail Carson Levine, I have to say, go read Ella Enchanted because that one just has to be read. If you’ve already read Ella, then by all means give A Tale of Two Castles a read!
Author’s site: http://gailcarsonlevine.com/