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The Castle Behind Thorns

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Stories don’t know everything.

When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. The stories all said the place was ruined by an earthquake, and Sand did not expect to find everything inside torn in half or slashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that prevents Sand from leaving. Why wasn’t this in the stories?

To survive, Sand does what he knows best—he fires up the castle’s forge to mend what he needs. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending? Or have the saints who once guarded this place returned?

When Sand finds the castle’s lost heir, Perrotte, they begin to untwine the dark secrets that caused the destruction. Putting together the pieces—of stone and iron, and of a broken life—is harder than Sand ever imagined, but it’s the only way to regain their freedom.

With gorgeous language and breathtaking magic, Merrie Haskell’s The Castle Behind Thorns tells of the power of memory, story, forgiveness, and the true gifts of craft and imagination.

332 pages, Hardcover

First published May 27, 2014

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Merrie Haskell

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 306 reviews
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 148 books37.5k followers
July 15, 2015
Ever since I reached an age where Disney's Sleeping Beauty (which I adored as a seven year old) suddenly turned kind of eugh, what with the guy Aurora barely knew creeping up while she was asleep and kissing her, I have wanted a sleeping beauty story with all the elements but no eugh.

This book comes pretty close to being what I wanted.

Haskell creates an alternate Renaissance era France, with magic as well as miracles existing uncomfortably side by side (as these did when Philip Melanchthon, Martin Luther's heir, dedicated his entire life to fashioning a Unified Field theory that reconciled religion, science, and magic), and gives us a blacksmith's boy named Sand, who wakes up in a fireplace after praying to his patron saint for help. He finds himself inside the sundered castle, surrounded by deadly thorns, alone, with everything around him either shattered or dead.

What he does, how he finds his companion, a difficult young aristocrat named Perrotte, and what they do together to deal with their dilemma, figure out the mystery of how they got there, and make their way to friendship, forms the rest of the story. Haskell is her best with relationships. It's sheer delight, watching the young characters navigate emotions and comprehension, especially of adult motivations. The themes of forgiveness and the nature of miracles breathe awe through the story. If at times it strays into bits of modern-sounding feminist rah rah, those are brief, and go a long way toward redressing some of the preaching about purity and passivity in tales of yore.

The juxtaposition of emotional verities, identity, religious beliefs, and magic might seem to jog uncomfortably in harness to one another, but from anything I have read it has always been that way for people of the past, and how the characters address it is far more interesting on these subjects than many adult books that I have read. While still packing in plenty of danger, atmosphere, and doings.
Profile Image for Hallie.
954 reviews123 followers
October 15, 2014
4.5 stars

I very much wish I'd written this up as soon as I finished it, because just about every element worked so well and I'd like to be able to do more than a list of "this worked for me, and this worked, and oh, hey, this worked!" I was pretty well hooked from the opening which had lovely echoes of the opening of Patricia McKillip's Song for the Basilisk. I was very taken with the idea of Sand's careful and painstaking rebuilding of bits and pieces of the ruined castle in which he found himself - both a survival story of sorts, and more. I loved the unexplained magic in the castle, and the way the story gradually grew to encompass historical setting outside the castle too. Perotte's awakening (from death, not sleep) was eerie and her growth as a character and in the friendship she and Sand build was wonderful too. The saints were one of the more different and surprising elements of a book that was altogether different and surprising. More than anything else, though, I was completely won over by the treatment of forgiveness and how hard it is to bring yourself to forgive someone who has done real wrong. For all this is a children's book, I remember discussions in a divorce support group with people struggling in the same way with the concept of forgiveness; quite a few were stuck thinking that forgiving the ex who had betrayed them would be another loss instead of a gain. Both redemption and the ability to forgive someone else are hard, tedious work, and I loved how that was shown here, without there being anything "messagey" in the book.

Profile Image for Susana.
984 reviews240 followers
February 22, 2015

A expression that I wouldn't use to describe this book:

A Magical adventure
(unlike what appears in its synopsis)

This is not a magical adventure. This is a book about the journey of two teens, and by journey, I am referring to a journey of the heart.

And no, I am not talking about romance. Forget about romance. This is a book about faith, forgiveness, and friendship, a story unlike any other I've ever read!

Also I wouldn't place this book in the so called middle grade "box". This is a very slow book, with characters that despite their young age (thirteen) _when compared with today costumes _ feel mostly grown up, in a setting that is firmly set in the Middle Age.

I would prefer to place this book in the historical fiction shelf....right beside the literary fiction one, and close by to the one featuring the magical realism....while trying to ignore the Christian shelf....because despite the Saints, and the "faith thing", I really don't want to go there.

It's a complicated thing, trying to define this book....Oh, and there's this tiny bit that could be considered a fairy tale retelling! Ah!


Slow. Really slow, because I for one, am not that interested in seeing someone just trying to repair and mend broken items!

Here's the thing: Sand our main character, one day finds himself in the interior of an abandoned castle. He has no idea how he got there. He can't leave, because the castle is surrounded by the most vicious thorns known to man, and he has no idea what to do!

No one is going to save him, and everything inside the castle is broken to bits. Even things that shouldn't be, like leather for instance.

Story is, twenty five years ago there was this earthquake, and the castle was abandoned...in more ways than one.

Bit by bit, Sand _ whose father and grandfather are both blacksmiths_ is able to put the castle's forge to work, and he just starts fixing things...in a very "unmagical" way.

Forget about this book's cover, and the ax on the boy's hand. Forget about the vivid colours that you see in it!
Sand finds himself in a place where nothing grows or lives.

“It means, nothing grows here. Nothing lives. Nothing rots, either. Everything just . . . dries out.”

A place that must have been stage of such a terrible thing, that even the ground, the chapel, and the tombs inside were split apart.
There he finds the body of a long dead girl. She's on the ground, outside of her broken tomb.
Sand knows he can't leave her just like that, so he tries to put her "to rights" inside her tomb...and then he gets the hell out of there...as normal people would do!
What follows next takes a little patience to read. I can't say that all the descriptions are engrossing and page turning!
This is not an action...movie/book.

However this is extremely well written, and after awhile I did become fascinated with the story.
Probably about the time the dead girl comes to life (that or the falcon!)...and I am not talking about zombie alive.
Just alive, as if she had just been sleeping:

"Perrotte had never been a good sleeper, and maybe that was why she lived again. Death was the ultimate night, and she couldn’t keep her eyes closed even through that."

What can I say?
You would expect there would be a whole lot of drama, due to suddenly seeing a dead girl come alive, right?
Wrong. With time the blacksmith's son, and Perrotte, who was once the daughter of a Countess, become friends.

Okay, I have a pet peeve _well more than one, but this is the one we are talking about know _ I don't like when religion gets mixed in a story. I tend to always feel as if I am being lectured on something...and the characters end up being some of the worst liars I have ever read about, while the story continues to praise their goodness. It's infuriating. I am thinking about Sarah Sundin's "Distant melody"...which I shouldn't even get started on...

This one, I am glad to say, that despite having two very active Saints _long story _ and the fact that one gets a....you know dead girl/bird rising plot, which can be constituted as a miracle, or just some very strong magical realism setting, never did that!
I never felt that I was being lectured! The characters felt real, and likeable (well after awhile...but the girl had her reasons), and not some "goody too-shoes" that just end up behaving like idiots...and liars!

Thank you. It just felt natural due to the time setting.

So, yes, despite what I saw as a slow start, I really, REALLY, ended up enjoying this book, and I think that this is going to be one of those whose reads, that will just keep getting better with constant re-reads.

So, grown ups! You, who like "a bit of the odd" in your stories, what are you waiting for to read this book?

Profile Image for Brandy Painter.
1,566 reviews214 followers
May 19, 2014
4.5 stars

Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.

Merrie Haskell is one of those authors that always surprises me. I have gone into each of her three books expecting one thing, and getting something entirely different. Is The Castle Behind Thorns a retelling of "Sleeping Beauty"? Yes. But it is a throughly unique and different take on the story. And I adored it.

This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

This is a quiet tale, one that unfolds slowly. Sand spends a large part of the opening completely alone, isolated from the world in the castle trying to figure out a way to survive. He is inventive, clever, and hard working. He is also lonely and talks to himself. These chapters didn't seem to move at all slowly to me though. The language is so beautiful and Haskell is building the mystery even as she allows the reader to get to know Sand and what he is about before she brings in the other central character, the magically awakened princess. Perotte awakens remembering she was dead. Not asleep. Dead. She pulls herself into the light of day and Sand's path, and the two of them, after a rocky start, begin to piece the castle and her story together. Perotte comes off as a spoiled and indulged brat at first, but her behavior quickly changes as she realizes how unfair she is being. As the weeks pass her and Sand develop a deep friendship and connection. But there are parts of Perotte's past she wants to keep locked away and not remember. Unfortunately she needs to confront them if they are ever going to defeat the magic of the thorns and get out of the castle.

The story here is wonderful. I love political intrigue and there is quite a bit of that, but most of all it is a tale of friendship, perseverance, and the power of forgiveness. What I loved about the forgiveness aspect is that it is not about the power to affect the forgiven, but the forgiver, that release that comes from letting your anger and bitterness go so that it no longer consumes you. The way Haskell wove this into a thoroughly original retelling of a fairy tale makes this my favorite "Sleeping Beauty" retelling of all time.

I received an e-galley from the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books, via Edelweiss. Castle Behind Thorns goes on sale May 27th.
Profile Image for Beth.
1,132 reviews109 followers
August 3, 2014
I honestly don't have much to say; I thought this was good, and the tone well done, and Sand's horror in particular communicated very well - but I also thought the novel's setting, its sense of place, was a little confused. This is a real medieval fantasy setting, with magic and castles, and yet it's got a bit of actual history and religion as well, and I didn't find the two to be particularly well integrated.

And the ending rubbed me the wrong way, but that could be my biases, and no fault of the book.
Profile Image for Shae.
734 reviews169 followers
June 10, 2014
I've been eyeing Ms. Haskell's books for a while now, since most in my circle seem to genuinely enjoy her work. For The Castle Behind Thorns, I was expecting a fairytale adventure with some sneakytimes and maybe an itsy bit of romance. I didn't quite get what I was expecting, but neither did this book disappoint.

As the synopsis promises, the book starts when Sand wakes up inside an abandoned castle that is split in half. Literally everything from the cabbage in the kitchen to the stuffed hawk in the hall to the walls of the castle itself have been ripped in two. According to local legend, the castle was ruined in an earthquake a quarter-century before and has remained guarded by vicious thorns and neglected by the townsfolk ever since. But as Sand starts to wander through the empty, echoing halls, he also begins to question the stories he's been told. What earthquake could rend literally everything, including the solid iron anvils in the castle forges? How is it that none of the food has rotted and yet nothing else lives within the walls after twenty-five years of neglect? Who is the dead girl in the castle crypt? And why do the monstrous thorns guarding the gates seem to attack him when he tries to leave?

I'll admit, not a lot happens in the first part of the book. Most of the beginning is Sand puttering around and fixing things. We see him learn how to draw water from the well without a bucket (rope and cloth balls), how to mend various metal things, how to patch up a broken taxidermy falcon, etc. It may not sound terribly interesting (and may not be for some people), but I enjoyed myself. I felt like I was learning useful things, the same way I felt while watching Lynn survive in Not a Drop To Drink.

I was also fascinated to realize that while the events concerning the castle were fantasy, Sand and his adventure was set in a real place and time. Ms. Haskell references real things like crucifixes, saints, Paris, and the legend of Arthur and Merlin. Then later when Sand talks to Perrotte, the dead girl in the crypt who mysteriously comes back to life, they reference real historical figures like Charles the Affable and Anna Vreizh. Based on their talks, The Castle of Thorns starts in 1518, 20 years after the death of Charles the Affable and 26 years after Perrotte's friend and duchess Anna Vreizh became Queen of France. (FYI, Anna Vreizh = Duchess Anne of Grave Mercy fame, which you can bet made me squeal when I put the pieces together.)

On the whole, I found the story interesting. Though technically a middle-grade novel, Ms. Haskell treats her readers like adults. She tosses out asides like Perrotte is "like the rock she's named after" without any hand-holding or further explanation. She expects readers to guess that "perrotte" is a derivation on a type of rock and to do research on their own time if they have any further questions. It reminded me of Seraphina and its love of houppelandes and other undefined objects. Ms. Haskell also does a great job of keeping the story and characters at a very astereotypical half-step off from my expectations. It felt a bit like listening to the National Anthem in minor chords (which you should totally listen to if you haven't already). I could follow along. I felt like I knew what was going to happen next, and for the most part I did except for when the tail end of one scene or another would take a quick twist away from my expectations.

Like I said, I enjoyed my time with Sand and Perrotte. I was content to watch them as they tackled questions about forgiveness, mending, and imagination. I liked learning about the stars and appreciated the balance between the two very different stepmother characters who affect the story. That being said, it's not a story I missed when I was finished, nor do I have any desire to return to the castle. The characters played their part well and I rooted for their success, but I had no real attachment to any of them. The Castle Behind Thorns ended up being a forgettable, middle-of-the-road book for me, but there were enough things I truly enjoyed about Ms. Haskell's writing that make me eager to try her again, so I count this adventure as a moderate success.

Points Added For: Sand not being a fluent reader, Sand preferring manual labor and craftsmanship over schooling, the historical context, Sand's stepmother, the practical mending advice.

Points Subtracted For: Not fully connecting me with the characters, being a little slow, the ending being a little too soft.

Good For Fans Of: Shannon Hale, The Secret Garden, historical fairytales.

Notes For Parents: Murder (not graphic).

Note: I received a digital review copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Cecelia.
397 reviews211 followers
August 18, 2014
Reading is a weird, personal experience. Likewise deciding what to read. Once I’ve settled on a book (enticed by the cover art, title, summary, author or the recommendation of someone I trust) my strange behavior escalates. I tend to avoid (or at best, skim) reviews of the chosen book. And after I’ve made a decision not to spoil a book for myself, years may go by, I may even change my mind about reading it, and still steer clear of reviews. It’s slightly obsessive behavior, but it’s just standard operating procedure. So: The Castle Behind Thorns. I loved Merrie Haskell’s middle grade debut The Princess Curse, but her following book, Handbook for Dragon Slayers, didn’t strike my fancy. Still, I’ve been waiting on this third Haskell title since last year, but I’ve been pretending reviews didn’t exist. I didn’t even let myself dwell on the summary. Once I started reading, though, it was all enchantment, and I hardly looked up until I’d finished the book.

Thirteen year-old Sand wakes one morning in the fireplace of a broken castle, with no memory of the night before, and no way out. But his arrival is just one of the mysteries of the castle. First, the castle itself and everything in it has been rent in two – violently. It was clearly caused by some magical or miraculous event – but what? Second, there’s an impenetrable wall of thorns growing around the castle walls, and they’re not exactly a benevolent presence. Third, Sand discovers that the castle’s long-lost heir Perrotte is trapped with him. While Sand sets about doing what he knows best – mending the castle through his blacksmithing skills – there’s the matter of survival. These two will need to untangle history, myth and emotion to free themselves and set things right once and for all.

Don’t be fooled: while this tale has the traditional castle-surrounded-by-thorns, it’s not a typical Sleeping Beauty retelling. The lovely mix of mythology, fairy tale, religion and medieval French setting is all its own. Unique too is the dual narrative structure, though Sand is certainly the focus.

Sand misses his loving family, but he’s struggling to forge his own path and this brings him into conflict with his father. His removal to the Sundered Castle forces him to adapt to independence quickly, and to face a few choice facts. Young noblewoman Perrotte’s past comes back to her slowly, and emotion threatens to sweep her into rash action when it does. However, Sand’s presence and her interest in the natural sciences combined lead to growth, and eventually, a future she could learn to love. At the most basic level, they’re two adolescents making the transition to adulthood, and while they urgently need a way out of the castle, their time of isolation also gives them time to know themselves and each other.

That’s the story, then. I enjoyed it, though it didn’t set my pulse racing – it’s a quieter sort of story (though not peaceful… there’s quite a bit of remembered violence). What really shines in The Castle Behind Thorns? Haskell’s writing and the world-building. Just A+ stuff! Haskell’s writing is like a mash-up of the best of Karen Cushman (The Midwife’s Apprentice) and Robin McKinley (The Blue Sword). It is finely wrought medieval fantasy setting plus fairy tale, magic and mysticism. I’ve never read anything like it (and I have read a lot of fairy tale retellings, folks). Haskell is breaking ground, but not in a flashy, plot-above-all sort of way – no, this is heart-driven, mythic storytelling with appeal for anyone who likes smart fantasy with layers of meaning (my preteen self would have loved this book and all of the female agency!).

I’m not sure, rereading my review, that I have convinced you to pick up the book yet. Let me try again. My favorite things: Sand as a character – so grounded, perfect temperament for his chosen work, and yet not a perfect cardboard cutout ‘type.’ The inclusion of religious symbols, saints and miracles alongside magic. Real danger! Unkindness and tragedy paired with examples of strength and courage. Good parental figures, as well as ambiguous ones. Gray areas! And of course, a historical heroine interested in science. This one, in case you couldn’t tell, was a total winner.

Recommended for: fans of Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty (don’t expect a romantic thread!), Elizabeth Gray Vining’s Adam of the Road, Sherryl Jordan’s The Raging Quiet, and all-ages (10+) fans of beautifully crafted historical fantasy.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
Author 1 book129 followers
July 3, 2015
I LOVE this series, and I am so sad to say goodbye to the castle.

Um, perfect medieval story about mending, friendships, survival, and now to live properly. Also, smithing.
Profile Image for Yune.
630 reviews21 followers
December 2, 2013
Eee! I got an ARC!

You might think from the title that this is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but like all of Haskell's novels, despite the fairy tale inspiration, it's a far more complex story that leans solidly upon history and is better regarded as an original fantasy tale.

I had a moment of déjà vu when I started reading this, because the first line felt so much like Patricia McKillip's Song for the Basilisk, in which a boy is hiding in a fireplace, so desperate to be overlooked that he thinks of himself as ash:
Sand woke, curled in the ashes of a great fireplace.
The similarities end pretty swiftly, though (although it's far from a bad thing to be compared to McKillip in my book; and I'm extremely fond of both writers' works). Where Basilisk feels haunted and melancholy, Sand isn't himself born of a tragedy, although he is surrounded by one. He sneezes upon climbing out of the fireplace--where he has no recollection of falling asleep in--and explores the abandoned Sundered Castle where he finds himself. And by "sundered," they mean it: everything in the place has been broken apart, which his father ascribed to an earthquake a few decades ago. Nothing's been spared.
Mixed with the mantel's splinters lay the shattered crest of a great family, their gilded phoenix and silvered swan once entwined, now separated and dismembered.
Even loaves of bread. And apples. Even bedsheets have been ripped apart, and when Sand explores the crypts, he finds the body of a girl tumbled from its tomb.

If you'll forgive me the digression, I adored the first half of the movie WALL-E, which had no dialogue at all. I grew less enchanted when people arrived on the scene, which probably says something about me. Yes, it was necessary for the plot to move forward, but I would've been happy just watching WALL-E trundle about the unpopulated Earth for the entire film.

After Sand explores the castle and discovers he can't leave, he sets about putting it to rights. I can't call his attitude cheerful, exactly, but he's so earnest about his efforts that I couldn't feel hopeless about his situation at all, or even overly annoyed at the lack of information--how'd he gotten there? What had happened to the castle? Why were foodstuffs dehydrated husks rather than rotten entirely (a good thing for his nutritional needs)? Furthermore, it turns out Sand's father is a blacksmith, and Sand uses the broken half of an anvil to repair metal objects. This sort of crafting in fantasy makes me swoon (see the Recluce Saga).

I loved this part: Sand's practicality and steadiness, and even the introduction of a couple of companions, a falcon and a girl (whose way of entering the story and the impenetrable castle made me positively giddy with delight), didn't interrupt my enjoyment. Sand and the girl, Perrotte, share their histories and navigate their differences, building a deeply satisfying friendship. There's a point when Perrotte must face a terrible memory, and Sand is desperate to try to mend it for her, the way he's been fixing everything else in the castle; his attempt was among the more poignant moments of the book for me.

Inevitably, the external world intrudes, and, well, see my notes about WALL-E. Although the characters possess some wonderful relationships with other people--Sand's stepmother, for example, is awesome and not evil at all--I was less convinced by some of the politics and intrigue that start stirring up interest in the castle and its occupants. The conclusion felt slightly anticlimactic, with important resolutions worked out while sitting on stools in a tent, although I give credit to Haskell for not tying everything up with a gigantic fluffy bowtie of unrealistic lalala-everything-is-happy-the-end.

Still very much worth the read if you like quieter young adult fantasy books--quiet in the sense of not much bang and boom (although there's a bit; there are, in fact, cannonballs), but still with plenty of depth and marvel in the characters themselves.
Profile Image for Ally.
201 reviews32 followers
July 28, 2014
I was lucky enough to read a manuscript of this one, and I absolutely fell head over heels in love with it. I can't wait until I'm able to share it with everyone I know.
Profile Image for Bibliothecat.
551 reviews52 followers
July 25, 2019

“Some things don't need to be mended. Some things are not meant to be mended.”

The Castle Behind Thorns is a beautiful, but perhaps also a little unusual, take on Sleeping Beauty. And while I definitely enjoyed it, I can't help but feel that this is a book that will only appeal to a few people.

Sand finds himself waking in the sundered castle with no memory of how he got there. He has known the castle for as long as he can remember, but all he ever learns is that it was destroyed during an earthquake and that everyone avoids the very mention of it. But now that Sand is inside the castle, he realises that everything is broken - damage beyond anything a mere earthquake could cause. And then there are the thorns that allow no living thing in - or out.

I like Sand - he is curious, imaginative and practical. He begins to mend broken items in the castle so that he can survive in his confinement. Soon, he is also joined by Perotte - a princess who seems to have been asleep for as long as the castle has been abandoned. She makes for an interesting character who is also curious and inventive. That being said, she is a much more emotionally driven character who lets thoughts of revenge drive her to rash actions.

Of course, being imprisoned together, Sand and Perotte form a strong bond. And although they both call it friendship, I am sure I wouldn't be the only reader to see more between them. The thing with The Castle Behind Thorns is that it is a very slow and melancholic book. It is quite literally a process of mending: mending the castle, mending physical and mental wounds and reconciliation.

There isn't much action and I can see how this book might bore one or the other reader. But there are several other things to be appreciated. Similar to the author's other work, The Princess curse, there is a nice and convincing blend of real historic places and fictional ones. The author knows how to present magic and fiction in a way that it fits into our world. I also love how she incorporates magic, religion and crafts into one setting without them getting in the way of each other. I also love how she includes the passions and ambitions of her characters - here in The Castle Behind Thorns, Perotte is very studious and loves astrology while Sand is all about becoming a blacksmith.

The ending was perhaps a trifle underwhelming, but it was wrapped up nicely. It's altogether a rather unique retelling and not for those who are looking for action and something fast-paced. Nevertheless, if you can do without either of those, you might end up enjoying this one!
Profile Image for Mila.
770 reviews66 followers
July 2, 2020
This was such an interesting and unique fantasy! I liked the characters and their banter, plus the French setting seemed to match the story well. I think the plot got a little jumbled towards the end, but, overall, I would definitely recommend this novel.
Profile Image for Henrietta.
207 reviews24 followers
April 2, 2014
This story began with a boy named Sand waking up inside an abandoned castle. Without knowing how he got inside the castle, Sand attempted to leave but the thorns surrounding the castle attacked him, making him feel irritated, annoyed and desolated. With all exits blocked by thorns, could Sand manage to survive long enough before someone came and rescued him?

I was so glad that this story wasn’t about Sand waiting for people to come and get him out of a bad place. Sand was in distress but he didn’t dwell in his bad moods. He worked out ways to get himself food and water and he used his skills as a blacksmith to fix things up so that he had tools to help him survive. I liked that he didn’t mind getting sweaty and dirty to do some hard work. When he saw broken items, he didn’t just discard them. He used his imagination and then turned these seemingly useless items into something useful. I also liked that he was sensible. He had a quiet determination to make the best out of his situation. Even when there wasn’t much for him to feel appreciative about, I liked that he focused on the good and not the bad.

Perrotte, the lost heir of the castle, was a different story. She carried a lot of rage and all she could think of was to punish those who had wronged her. But with Sand patiently helping her get through her pain and sorrow, she started seeing life a little differently. I liked how the growth of thorns was tied to her (and Sand) in its intricate way and it’s wonderful to see how Perrotte made her choice in the end to make the thorns go away.

Delightfully imaginative and beautifully written, The Castle Behind Thorns is a story that offers good, profound messages for both kids and adults. I think this one will soon become a favorite among libraries, schools and book clubs. Look out for this title when it’s released in May 2014 – highly recommended!


Originally posted on LeisureReads.com

A copy of the book was provided by publisher for review purposes.
Profile Image for Library Lady.
118 reviews
August 23, 2014
I love a good fairytale retelling as much as the next person, but what I really don't like is when an author writes one and then doesn't acknowledge that he or she has done so, choosing instead to pretend that what is so obviously a retelling-- or maybe more accurately, a reinterpretation-- is truly original. A simple cursory browse through the Internet will show that "Sleeping Beauty" was originally French. So all of the references to France pinpointed the story to it's origins, as did many other elements such as the thorns and the "sleeping" girl. There was no mention in an author's note or anything to give light to her obvious inspiration and I thought that was more than a little annoying. The references were just too obvious to me to be ignored and should have been acknowledged, even just listing the original tale as an inspiration in an author's note.

That said, I did find the book enjoyable, if a bit slow. I have trouble believing that most target age fantasy readers will be able to slog through this one because the action is so slow and takes so long to develop. (And I'm saying this as a librarian who worked with middle graders for seven years and ran a fantasy book group for that age group for all seven of those years.) Once the story really picks up steam, the author's reimagining of Sleeping Beauty is a wonder to behold. The deep hurt of the intertwined family stories was nicely done, though a little too pat in the end. This was not the best fairytale like story that I've ever read, but it certainly wasn't the worst either!
Profile Image for Jenelle.
Author 14 books171 followers
September 7, 2017
Meet Sand. He wakes up all alone in fireplace of a broken castle surrounded by thorns, with no idea of how he got there. He's seen the castle, of course, but nobody really notices or cares about it. But now he finds himself trapped. The castle is frozen in time, it seems. Everything is broken in half, but no rot or decay has touched anything... so the good news is, he won't starve anytime soon. Though he does fear that he will eventually grow tired of turnips. A blacksmith-in-training (not an official apprentice, because Sand's father wants to send him away to University, though Sand has no desire to do anything but become a blacksmith), Sand first works out the necessities to survive (food and a method of retrieving water from the well without a bucket) and then begins to set to work mending things in the castle.

However, mending things brings about some startling consequences...

This book was so good. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I was hanging on every word, aching to discover the secrets behind the breaking of the castle right along with Sand. I enjoyed the relationship between Sand and Perotte (who shows up in the castle and adds to the mystery) and how it developed into a truly beautiful friendship. I really enjoy that this author manages to consistently write stories that involve boy-girl friendships without needing to hint at a romantic thread. This is a very sweet friendship story.

Overall, this is very possibly the most unique take on "Sleeping Beauty" I've ever read.
Profile Image for Phoebe.
1,957 reviews12 followers
February 3, 2015
Haskell is the author of the appealing teen fantasy, Handbook for Dragon Slayers, which had some limitations, but one feels she has honed her writing skills in this really outstanding new juvenile fantasy. Sand, a blacksmith's son, awakens most oddly in the fireplace of a deserted, destroyed castle. He has seen the castle his entire life, but has never entered it, smothered as it is in sharp thorns, broken and abandoned and associated with a mysterious, distant curse. It is soon painfully evident that not only is Sand completely alone in the ruins, he is also a prisoner, and he is bewildered by the sense that time has stopped and he cannot fathom how he came to be where he is. Though the story has echoes of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and even real Breton history, it feels completely original, and readers will be swept into the adventure along with Sand. I enjoyed the blacksmithing details, though this may weaken the interest for some kids. Haskell keeps her fantasy age-appropriate yet no less complex and interesting for all that. 4th grade and up.
Profile Image for Eustacia Tan.
Author 15 books249 followers
March 17, 2022
I can’t quite remember how I found this book, but it was in my overdrive wishlist and I was looking for a fantasy to read so I decided to pick it. What I found was a French-inspired fantasy full of friendship and learning how to put broken things back together.

The Castle Behind Thorns starts when Alexander wakes up in a fireplace. He soon realises that he’s in the castle which has been torn into two and hidden behind thorns for years. Everything in this castle is thorn but in order to survive, he starts to use his blacksmithing skills to mend things. One day, the lady Perotte wakes up and the two of them have to figure out the secrets behind the castle and Lady Perotte’s death in order to find out how to escape.

I liked this book from the first chapter. Sand’s concern with staying alive is realistic and the way he ends up waking Perotte is pretty believable too. Basically, the first few chapters are about how he makes the castle inhabitable, and although that means the mystery of the castle takes a while to start, I actually really enjoyed reading it. It gave me a good idea of what Sand was like as a person and I knew that I wanted him to be able to escape.

And of course, I also enjoyed Perotte as a character. One thing that struck me was her crankiness just after she came back to life – like how she insisted Sand address her as “my lady”. It made perfect sense to me that you won’t be in the best of moods if you just find that you’re no longer dead. She wasn’t immediately likeable, but she wasn’t off-putting and I really enjoyed reading about how her friendship with Sand developed and finding out more about how she did.

Speaking of their friendship, because this book is MG (at least it feels like it, with Perotte only being thirteen), the friendship between the two mostly stays as a friendship. As someone who’s not a huge fan of romance and doesn’t like love triangles, a straightforward story of two children learning to be friends was refreshing.

I also really enjoyed all the fairy-tale elements in this story. A story with a noble-born girl who wakes after a long time and a castle with thorns surrounding it is obviously inspired by Sleeping Beauty, and I enjoyed all the references to the fairytale. It hits enough tropes while being different enough to hold my interest. I also really enjoyed how the history of Perotte’s family and the castle was woven into the mystery of the thorns and her coming back to life – I found it really hard to put the book down because of it!

Overall, I found this to be a highly enjoyable story! Although it’s quite clearly middle-grade, it’s complex enough for older readers to enjoy. I really enjoyed the worldbuilding in the book and the way it develops the friendship between Sand and Perotte, making it a key part of the plot.

This review was first posted at Eustea Reads
Profile Image for Kayla.
1,565 reviews65 followers
March 28, 2018
I read Marie Haskell's The Handbook for Dragon Slayers several years ago when it first came out and loved it. In fact, it became one of my favorite books that I read that year. It made me even more excited to read her newer book, The Castle Behind Thorns. I got a copy before it was released, but just now found the time to read it. I wish I hadn't waited so long. Once again, the author did not disappoint me. I greatly enjoyed the book.

I will admit, I found the beginning of the book very slow-paced. I think it's because the reader learns alongside with the main character what is happening. It can make things confusing at first. It was also hard to figure out how much time was passing in the castle during the book. However, once I got a couple chapters into the book I found myself loving it. I couldn't put it down. I love the way Marie Haskell weaves a storyline. It was like pure magic. It brought back a sense of nostalgia from reading some of my favorite medieval fantasy books when I was a kid. She brought back a sense of wonder that I haven't had while reading a middle grade book in quite a few years.

I also loved the characters in The Castle Behind Thorns. I love how smart and creative Sand was. He didn't just lay in the fireplace and give up, which I'm pretty sure is what I would have done in his situation. It shows younger readers that if you just use your imagination, you can persevere through anything. At first,  I wasn't sure about Perrotte. However, by the end of the book I loved her as well. Even after everything she went through, she was able to adapt to change and learn new things. I love when middle grade books have strong characters, and both of these characters are some of the strongest I've read in middle grade fiction.

Even though the book had a rocky start, I ended up loving it. From the incredible magic system to the strong characters, the book pulled me in and didn't let me go. I think I might have even liked it more then The Handbook for Dragon Slayers. I can't wait to see what Marie Haskell comes out with next. Whatever she writes, it will definitely be at the top of my reading list. I recommend this book to children, teens, and adults alike. I think anyone that loves a great medieval fantasy book will love this.
Profile Image for Taun.
229 reviews
July 1, 2020
Mystery meets magic in this middle grade novel. At times the pace of the story creeps along, others give a bit of action. Focusing on two young people, Sand & Perotte, the books theme of items being mended extends to the healing of people too. A fun summer read.
Profile Image for Mabel.
584 reviews2 followers
December 4, 2017
I like the concept but for me, it wasn’t completely satisfying how things are explained.

I do like the characters and how things progress slowly but intensely.
Profile Image for Nafiza.
Author 7 books1,186 followers
October 19, 2015
Merrie Haskell writes wondrous middle grade fiction and her newest offering, The Castle Behind Thorns, is just as readable and evocative as the other two. Like her previous novels, The Castle Behind Thorns, too, retells, in its own way, a fairy tale, this time Sleeping Beauty. It is a direct retelling as Haskell chooses which elements of the “original” story she wants to tell and which one she wants to either get rid of or subvert.

The story begins with Sand, an aspiring blacksmith, waking up in a fireplace in the castle behind the thorns. The story is set in the French countryside which is the location of the castle. As Sand walks around taking inventory of everything remaining in the castle that has been in the background his entire life, he finds out that everything in the castle has been sundered. Torn in two. Even the small thing has been halved. Nothing grows in the castle or gets older. But what Sand doesn’t know is that as walks around, he is changing things. Sand is effectively trapped in the castle because the thorny bramble refuses to let him pass and when the long dead princess of the castle, Perrote, comes back to life, Sand’s predicament becomes even more dire.

There are many reasons to love this book but I think for me the biggest reason is the strength of the narrative. If I had to elaborate on it, I would say that there is a quietness about the story; there is no melodrama to the lives Sand and Perrote lead. There is beautiful introspective quality about the novel that I find difficult to articulate. Sand grows as a person, finds his limits and then surpasses them. His desire to be a blacksmith is against his father’s desire for him to be a scholar and in the vacuum afforded to him by the isolation of the castle, he is able to understand his father. Haskell captures Perrote’s fey quality perfectly and in her reflections about death and what it meant to not exist, we learn what it was to exist. She, too, comes to terms with who she was and how she was. Perrote’s personality subverts entrenched ideas about what a princess is and should be like. However, Haskell constructs Perrote as more than an opposite to what Disney says fairy tale princesses are like; instead, she is an engaging mix of young and old voices. Her vulnerabilities are relatable as are Sands. Their friendship, when it finally solidifies is satisfying and though there is no romance, there is a definition potential for it and we do see glimmers of it by the end. Nothing overt but just a hint.

The plot is complex and layered and contains twists that I didn’t see coming. Haskell ties Perrote’s story to Sand’s narrative in a very clever way while maintaining the logic. I appreciated that. If you are looking for something slower, more contemplative, this is the book for you. I heartily recommend it.
Profile Image for Nicole.
629 reviews263 followers
June 6, 2014
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I’m actually a giant fan of Fantasy Middle Grade, so hearing about The Castle Behind Thorns made me ecstatic. Especially with “secrets and a dark history.” Secrets indeed!The magic in this story is vivid and creative and completely original. I loved the story behind the castle behind the thorns and I loved the haunting mystery. Right from the start, there’s a sort of curiosity in the atmosphere and you can’t help but get caught up in the story. Literally everything is split in half, or at least broken, and all the food is dried up instead of rotted and spoiled, and it just makes everything a bit more…enchanting and magical. I was almost obsessed with figuring out the why and how behind the magic and, in the end, the why and how were unbelievably enthralling.The plot, while slow, was just as remarkable as the rest of the book. The story seems to be loosely based on Sleeping Beauty and it was more than fitting for the heart of the story. Sand was earnestly repairing the castle piece by piece and it made everything seem bleaker than before. It seemed like he had no more hope to get out of the castle after his first attempt and when Perrotte showed up, things got a little brighter, if not even more hopeless with two instead of one person trapped. There was always a constant worry of starving to death or never leaving the confines of the living brambles and it was…sad how quickly they adjusted to life in the broken castle.
But the plot is definitely enrapturing and I loved every moment of it, especially near the end when Perrotte remembers everything, remembers her life, and a new fire is kindled in her.The relationship between our two characters is sparked firstly by loneliness, but their friendship takes a deeper turn. And no, I don’t mean romantically, but they start to depend more and more on each other, on their company, and it’s more than just a lack of options. It was sweet, how much they loved each other (as friends) and how much they supported and tried to help each other.
Their relationship runs deeper than before the castle was sundered though, and the mystery, and revelation, had me gaping and gasping.There’s something drastically enchanting about The Castle Behind the Thorns that made me fall in love with the characters and the story and just everything. The story was mind blowing and heart warming, the magic positively enthralling. The theme behind the stories was brilliant and how the characters grew was just amazing and endearingly sweet. Honestly, this book was near perfect. And as unfair as it is (and I agree) I didn’t love it completely because I felt like I would’ve loved to see a YA version of this. I know I know. But otherwise, this book is beyond stunning!
Profile Image for Erin.
21 reviews
February 21, 2016
Sand is the son of a blacksmith living in rural France. Unexpectedly, he one day wakes up inside an abandoned castle and finds himself trapped there. The castle has been sundered, or split in two, and surrounded by magical thorns that attack anything that moves. Everything inside the castle has been damaged. Not knowing what else to do, Sand uses his blacksmithing skills to mend things so he can survive. Then suddenly Perrotte appears. She is the heir of the castle...and was dead, now returned to life. The two pair up, working together to not only to mend the castle, but also to figure out how Perrotte died, and why she came back to life.

This is a story of friendship, faith, and forgiveness. It's nice to read a story with teenage characters that is not focused on romance. The battles that the characters face are internal, each needing to come to terms with how their life worked out and accepting what is. While some might consider it a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, I would say that is a large stretch of the imagination. Merrie Haskell seemed to only borrow the idea of a sleeping castle surrounded by thorns. Everything else is far removed from the Sleeping Beauty tale. I found this story to be very introspective. For the majority of the tale, there are only two characters in a large castle. Likewise, the story is quiet and does not have a lot of action. The ending seems to come quickly, but then there are many more characters present at the end, and it seems to mirror life in that time moves quicker when there is a bustle of activity.

This story might be good for those who are not sure that they want to read the fantasy genre. It does not have too many elements of fantasy, or at least one does not have to suspend reality too much to enjoy the story. The characters themselves seems to shy away from the magic that they encounter. I don't think I would use this story to teach to a class, but it would be good to use for literature circles. There are many avenues for discussion or connections to personal lives.
Profile Image for Brenda.
822 reviews36 followers
May 5, 2014
I really enjoyed Haskell's twist on Sleeping Beauty. Sand is such a determined young boy and has such a sense of right and wrong. I love how he doesn't just brood about being in the castle all by himself and instead sets things in motion to find food for himself from the broken spices and items left in the pantry. Even getting water becomes a huge task, but Sand uses his imagination and crafts things out of the broken items as best he can. Perrotte initially comes off as a rude, spoiled princess even demanding that Sand call her "my lady." She is so filled with rage and grief that she believes that she can just cut through the thorns and then her enemies. But Perrotte's grief comes from learning that she is the last heir of the castle and finding yourself trapped within its walls becomes very overwhelming. Plus she is trying to understand the memories and flashes she has about her past. I so loved how Sand and Perrotte develop a wonderful caring friendship and when Perrotte drags Sand's mattress next to hers so that they both won't be alone it's a touching moment and the beginning of a beautiful strong bond between the two. Overall, there is a lovely message of forgiveness and how sometimes somethings can't be mended or we may just need to mend ourselves. Many thanks to Harper Collins Publishing and Goodreads for this advanced reading copy.
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