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A Tale of Two Castles

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Mysteries abound, especially in Two Castles.

A handsome cat trainer, black-and-white cats, thieves on four legs and two, suspicious townsfolk, a greedy king, a giddy princess, a shape-shifting ogre, a brilliant dragon. Which is the villainous whited sepulcher?

Elodie journeys to the town of Two Castles to become a mansioner—an actress—but luck is against her. She is saved from starvation by the dragon Meenore, who sends her on a dangerous mission inside the ogre's castle. There, disguised as a kitchen maid at an ogre's feast, she finds herself cast in the role of a lifetime and pitted against a foe intent on murder.

Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine weaves an entrancing tale of a fearsome ogre, a dragon detective, and a remarkable heroine, who finds friendship where she least expects it, learns that there are many ways to mansion, and discovers that goodness and evil come in all shapes and sizes.

328 pages, Hardcover

First published May 10, 2011

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About the author

Gail Carson Levine

66 books8,766 followers
Just letting you all know: I'm only going to review books I love. There's enough negative criticism without me piling on. A book is too hard to write.

Gail Carson Levine grew up in New York City and began writing seriously in 1987. Her first book for children, Ella Enchanted, was a 1998 Newbery Honor Book. Levine's other books include Fairest; Dave at Night, an ALA Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults; The Wish; The Two Princesses of Bamarre; and the six Princess Tales books. She is also the author of the nonfiction book Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly and the picture book Betsy Who Cried Wolf, illustrated by Scott Nash. Gail, her husband, David, and their Airedale, Baxter, live in a 1790 farmhouse in the Hudson River Valley of New York State.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 918 reviews
Profile Image for Vinaya.
185 reviews2,078 followers
February 28, 2011
There is only one word to describe Gail Carson Levine’s books, and that is ‘charming’. The beauty of her writing lies in her ability to create enduringly endearing characters. And in Two Castles, she manages to weave her magic, yet again.

Strangely enough, although A Tale of Two Castles has a much younger protagonist than Ella Enchanted, I found the writing style in this book infinitely less juvenile. In Ella Enchanted, her prose is breathless and fast-paced. In Two Castles, her words have more gravity, and the pace is more ponderous. Two Castles is a book that adults will find as captivating as children and teenagers.

Elodie, the heroine, is a twelve-year old farm girl who sets off to the city of Two Castles to apprentice herself to the mansioners and realize her dream of becoming an actor. Alas for poor Elodie, the practice of offering free ten-year apprenticeships has just been abolished, and she discovers too late that she is too poor to pay for her apprenticeship. To add to her woes, her single copper is stolen almost as soon as she sets foot in the city. She is rescued from starvation by the dragon Meenore, who offers her a position as ITs assistant. (Dragons, being secretive about their sex, are always referred to as IT instead of him or her.) Elodie soon becomes embroiled in a plot against a hated ogre (with a heart of gold) and a search for the dreaded whited sepulcher, the outwardly beautiful person with evil in their heart.

Elodie comes off as being much older than twelve, a trend that is very common, I have noticed, in fantasy. However, it is an understandable concept for me, and one that I will not take issue with. With my great powers of “deduction, induction and common sense”, I understand that privation and poverty age a person much too quickly, and children from poor families grow up quicker than children of privilege. Besides, Elodie is so adorable, it’s hard to find fault with her. She’s smart, quick-witted and kind-hearted, with a questioning mind that comes in very useful when she is called upon to deduce the identity of the whited sepulchre.

This is not a profound novel, but it does have an underlying message. The people of Two Castle fear and hate the ogre, even though he is kind and considerate; they judge him by the acts of his father, and are unwilling to let go of their fear long enough to know him as a person. All the characters that are reviled as monsters, such as ogres and dragons, turn out to be sympathetic and reliable; it is the people who are the true monsters, hiding behind fear, ignorance and greed.
This is a short, but sweet book (pardon the cliché) that is designed to appeal to the simplistic worldview of children and young teens. The mystery captures one’s attention, and the suspects are all plausible. If you’re over ten, it’s a given that you’ll figure out who the ‘villain’ is, but that doesn’t detract from the pleasure of watching Elodie work her way to the truth. While there is no romance in the book, obviously, Elodie does have her first crush on a suitably good looking older man, and blushes and stutters adorably when he is around. No ickiness about it though, I promise.

I come back to my opening description, to say that all in all, A Tale of Two Castles is a charming adventure/detective story that is a pleasure to read. This is only my second Levine book, but you can be sure I'm going to be buying her other books soon!

DISCLOSURE: This book was provided to me by the publisher via Net Galley. This review is not influenced by any considerations, monetary or otherwise.
Profile Image for Tomoe Hotaru.
248 reviews850 followers
June 5, 2011
I don't know, maybe this is better suited as a children's book, which is why I couldn't enjoy it half as much as I hoped to. A Tale of Two Castles recounted the journey of Elodie, a poor farm girl with nothing but "mansioning" (acting) skills, who goes to Two Castles for an apprenticeship. However, unexpected events pushed her to become the assistant of Meenore the dragon; later into the castle of Count Jonty Um the ill-reputed ogre, to protect him from those who would have him killed.

For me, even though the premise itself sounded quite interesting, the way the story was delivered just made it sound hard to believe. I couldn't be sucked into the world Levine created, nor attach myself to her characters.

Elodie, who was supposed to be a nobody; a 12 year-old girl who had no education other than tending geese at her far-away home, turned out to know much more than I found it possible for her to.
She could detect poison by smelling it in her food, and quite conveniently knew how long it took before the effects started to show - a feat that would save a good many food tasters from dying, and one that is not possible to attain without years of training.

I sniffed my bowl. The scent was faint but detectable: eastern wasp powder. Rare and expensive, but she was a princess. The poison acted in an hour or two, caused chills, fever, tremors, a tight throat, death. A single swallow would be enough to kill me. But I would feel no sharp pain, no agony. No suffering.

But how did she know this? Because her friend back at home used to teach her mansioning and poisons popped up in a few of the stories.
Her character also didn't ring true of a young girl. Upon arrival at Two Castles, she was robbed by a cat, leaving her with a few coins that couldn't even get her food, let alone an apprenticeship. I'm over 20, and in that situation I think I would be panicking if only for a little while. She was far from home (and had no way of getting back), she knew nobody at Two Castles, had no way of sustaining herself ... but she took it all with an unusual calm. It just did not sound believable to me.

The other characters were somewhat bland. I found the way the narrator referred to Meenore was annoying. See, only dragons knew his or her own sex, so everyone else would refer to it as "it", never "he" or "she". But instead of calling it an "it" or "It", the narrator had to give us a big, bad, capital "IT". This is minor, of course, but it irritates the flow of the text. It makes it sound like a louder voice; a big, booming voice of God interrupting the narration every now and then with a voice-over "IT" every time Meenore is mentioned.

I also didn't find the people of Two Castles credible. They were apparently afraid of the dragon as well as the ogre, which was hinted at in all the warnings they gave Elodie. But they sure didn't behave as if they feared them. For people who were afraid of a large, fire-breathing dragon, they didn't seem to show IT the slightest bit of respect. They didn't seem to care if they might anger IT and IT would suddenly roast them to a pork.
Likewise was their treatment of the ogre, who they feared simply for being big, and because his parents were apparently cruel. Never mind how obviously kind and patient he was. Anyhow, despite fearing this ogre so much, they still didn't show any signs of it. When the ogre hosted a banquet at his castle, instead of trying their best not to anger him, they were downright impolite and obviously disrespected him - which was evident when Count Jonty Um tried to make a speech but everybody made a show of ignoring him.

Another thing that detracted from the overall enjoyment of the book was its predictability. Perhaps because we were given this flashing red signal from the start to watch out for a "whited sepulcher" - or a person who behaved as if they were kind, but really was not - the readers suspected everyone who acted a little too kind. For me, instead of throwing me off when the villain was revealed, it just made the surprise - well - not a surprise, because I'd already suspected them and even through the course of the novel found small signs or motives for their villainy.

Some events just seemed to be random; I can't give any examples of this one, because it's just a feeling I get while reading over some scenes. They just ... felt ... blah. Like, couldn't there be another way to progress the story?
There was this repetitive explanation of deduction/induction, also reasoning behind every single conclusion the characters come up with:

"You concocted the wrist flick when you heard about the will, and you will make sure His Majesty is informed as soon as you may. Lodie, why will he do so?" (...)
"Because Master Thiel doesn't want Sir Misyur to inherit."
"And what else?"
I spoke slowly, reasoning it out. "Because ... neither ... will ... His ... Majesty ..." I had it! "His Majesty will seize the castle. People will believe Sir Misyur guilty because he had riches to gain." I felt breathless. "Master Thiel will receive a reward for his lie."

...and there were many more scenes that made me feel as if I was having someone take my hand and guide me through the story.

To wrap it up, it was the overall credibility of the book that made me give it as much (or as few?) stars that I did. It might be a little more enjoyable for children, if they can be sucked into the story despite the random nonsensicalness of some events.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Erica (storybookend).
359 reviews284 followers
May 19, 2011
Gail Carson Levine, I must say, is one of my favorite authors (at least when I need a cute, light fairytale type read). Her books are sweet, and enchanting, and just purely fun little fairytales. A Tale of Two Castles was no exception. It had that special magical quality that Levine’s other books all possess, simple in its light fairytale esque feeling, yet beautiful with its engaging writing and endearing characters, complete with an intriguing plot, at first perhaps simple, but at the end, quite brilliantly played out and executed.

Elodie is a 12 year old girl, traveling to the kingdom of Lepai in hopes of becoming apprenticed as a mansioner, an actress. After arriving at Two Castles, with an excess of cats roaming the streets, she is unable to acquire an apprenticeship, and is instead employed to the dragon, Mastress Meenore, the Great, the Unfathomable, master of inducing and deducing, able to find any lost object, solve any riddle. When his Lordship’s, the ogre, dog goes missing, Elodie assists IT (the dragon, which is called IT as only ITself knows ITs gender) in finding the dog. And thus ensues the mystery of finding who stole the dog, who poisoned the king and set the cats on the ogre, who mauled the ox, with a rather surprising ending to keep you on your toes.

Elodie is a strong young girl, who starts out attempting to fulfill her dream of mansioning, but finds her true calling in inducing and deducing, which she acquires by interacting and being with IT, and hearing IT’s own deducing of mysteries. For a 12 year old, she is quite astute and determined.

The world Levine created was delightful and enchanting. The writing will strike some people as too simple, but I love it for its simplicity and the magic found within. And it’s just Levine’s style of writing, with stories geared toward younger teenagers and children, and not older teenagers or adults looking for epic stories with a lot of depth and stark, passionate emotion with though provoking messages. This book isn’t for everyone, but fans of Levine will surely love it, and those looking for light fairytales.
Profile Image for Pooja Peravali.
Author 2 books53 followers
December 22, 2022
Unable to afford an apprenticeship, Elodie becomes a dragon's assistant, befriends an ogre, and becomes immersed in a conspiracy to overthrow a king.

This was a fun, short read. I loved the character of Elodie, who is your classic, spunky heroine in a fantasy novel but has enough of her own quirks and characteristics to stand on her own too. I liked the theme of the "whited sepulchre," and the importance of not judging people by their appearance or reputation.

It took me a little white to realize that this was an inverted retelling of Puss in Boots, but it only added to my enjoyment when I did.

However, I felt that the supporting characters were not always well-sketched, and there were lots of dangling bits of world-building (like the twine bracelets and the conflict with a neighboring country) that unfortunately went nowhere. I also thought that the plot went in sometimes dizzying circles, which I didn't much enjoy.
Profile Image for Seanean.
512 reviews8 followers
February 25, 2011

At just twelve years old Elodie leaves home and sets off aboard ship to the town of Two Castles where she hopes to become a mansioner (actor). But fate has other plans for her. She instead becomes the assistant to the town dragon who is an expert in inductive and deductive reasoning. By paying close attention to her new masteress's teachings and to the world around her, can Elodie figure out who has betrayed the town ogre and poisoned the king?

Final thoughts: It's a short book talk because the book was just bland. Levine tried so hard to create this whole new world with new words and a new system of government and education that she completely overshot and made it boring. I struggled through this one and barely made it to the end. Honestly, I should have shelved this one after the first couple of chapters. I have really loved some of Levine's previous work, but this one was just not worth the read.
Profile Image for Beth.
777 reviews314 followers
January 1, 2016
While nothing can ever replace my love for Ella Enchanted, A Tale of Two Castles is a really fun story. Sometimes the way the story flowed felt odd, but for the most part, I really enjoyed this one and devoured it in about a day. I think had I read it as a child it would have been a favorite for sure. I already own the second book about Elodie and hope to read it this year.
Profile Image for Lucía Cafeína.
1,513 reviews175 followers
May 14, 2023
Me siento hasta triste poniendo esta nota pero es que se me ha hecho aburrido: con lo muchísimo que había disfrutado otras historias de la autora como El mundo encantado de Ella o Dos princesas sin miedo, este no tenía nada de esa magia, de esa emoción. Es verdad que tiene una ambientación chula, y ese toque de misterio, pero siento que no ha terminado de aterrizar.
Profile Image for Lynna.
54 reviews
June 23, 2015
I loved this book.
It's rather hard to tackle why I liked this book, so I'll make a list:
1. I once heard someone saying that spunky heroines as an archetype are getting old, and they're right. However, The way I see it, Elodie just seemed so much more than an archetype. Although its true she acted in many ways that are typical of young fantasy heroines (outspoken, brave, smart) these features just don't outweigh the other aspects of her personality, most notably, her love of acting and her vivid imagination. She reminds me of my day-dreamy self when I was her age. Oh, that's right. Her thoughts and feelings are that of a twelve year old. It's true that sometimes she acts a little older, but that makes sense because people had to grow up faster when times were harder. She hopes, she fears, and acts in a way that really makes her feel real. She also lacks the whiny and snarky aspect of many YA and some MG heroines, which is refreshing.(Note to YA authors everywhere: Strong female character=/= Spoiled brat)

2. The other characters. A major theme of this book is that you can't always judge people by their appearances, which is a really great theme for characters. Meenore was especially well-developed by the end of it. Not only the characters, actually, but the character interactions, which were very strong. Not only did the characters grow by the end of the book, but their relationships did, particularly Elodie and Meenore's.

3. Despite being written for a younger audience than Ella Enchanted and Fairest, this book has a lot more of a mature tone. While it keeps up the pace and flow, it does give a little more time to the quieter moments to give us time to think about the story. It also contains a lot more references to history, such as the structure of castles, boats, and the mention of apprenticeships. It also has much stronger world-building than some of her other books, with references to different fashions (and their variation from place to place, no less), the money system, hospitality traditions, proverbs, superstitions, accents, and stories (Some of which she borrowed from our world, by the way, but she did this in such a way that they sounded like they came from Elodie's world) It made the book seem far more realistic, and gave it a certain maturity that many MG books lack.

4.Fun. There were just so many things in this book, from the cats of Two Castles (The name of the city in the story, by the way)to the funny little details about the Dragons that I'd never seen before, and no, they weren't the kind of thing that is so new and unique you'd declare the book a masterpiece just for dong something different, but I really enjoyed them. In the hands of another author, they probably would have turned the book into an all-out comedy, but Levine didn't choose that path, so instead they add a light-hearted sense to the story without breaking the more mature part of its tone.

...That's all really I can think of for now. I's true that I haven't read the book in a while, but these reasons remain clear in my mind. Just to make sure, I'll read the book again soon, but I suspect I'll just remember more things I loved about it. I'd almost say I like this book the most out of all Mrs. Levine's books, but I'm loath to do that because I've loved the others for much longer.
Highly recommended. I know not everyone will love this books as I do, but I think more people should give it a try nonetheless. I admit, maybe they hit an internal cord within me, and that's the real reason I like them so much, but I still think it's very well written. I eagerly await the sequel.
Profile Image for Ann.
510 reviews
October 7, 2012

At not yet 14 Elodie (her exact age is a bit vague, probably 12 or 13) sets off from her beloved parents, brother and the small farming community from which she's lived to the city of Two Castles to seek an apprenticeship in mansioning (acting). But on the boat trip to Two Castles, Elodie learns that apprenticeships are no longer free, and Elodie, having no money to speak of, finds her dream dashed before she even reaches shore. How is a penniless girl from town to survive in a large city with dragons, ogres, and whiteseplecures (people who appear nice but are actually otherwise - and my apologies if this word is wrong, but I'm writing is as it sounded since I don't know the proper spelling).
And not knowing anyone in the city, how will Elodie know who to trust? Is the dragon to be as feared as it is? What about the ogre? He seems kind enough...

Without options, Elodie agrees to work for the dragon, who sends Elodie on a mission to the ogre's castle to help him locate his (the ogre's) lost dog, but just as importantly to figure out who stole the dog and why. The dragon seems to think the ogre himself may be in mortal danger.

The dragon teaches Elodie how to reason, how to use common sense, to induce, deduce, to problem solve, and to tell the difference between fact and presumption. And Elodie is a likeable protagonist, confident without being cocky, humble without being weak, and clever without being annoying.

The other characters - and there are many - are delightful and intriguing, helped by the wonderful narration by Sarah Coomes (I adore her, what I think is, Scottish accent!).

The book is nicely detailed and the "whodunnit" mystery kept me guessing and did not disappoint. It's a great book for younger readers (or older readers) who want to read mysteries but aren't interested in grim or grisly murder mysteries. Plus, I really enjoyed the lessons that the dragon was trying to teach Elodie.

The only downside was that I did get a little confused from time to time as which sub-character was which. Many of them do not have names, but rather go by "The Count" or have multiple names, and it's hard to keep track of them all. Probably if one was reading (instead of listening to) the book it wouldn't have been as much of a problem.

I really enjoyed this tale and rather hope there's more to come!
Profile Image for Valerie.
249 reviews74 followers
September 6, 2016
A girl working for a Dragon to solve a mystery to save a nice ogre. Add that with the unique magical writing of Levine. Well what are you waiting for!

If that is not enough than I'll write more.

There is a great heroine who has a big heart and a vibrant spirit. Elodie (or Lodie depending who you ask) is on her own now and she wants to be a mansioner which is an actor (took me a few pages to figure that one out). She was turned away though; fate has bigger plans for her. A dragon offers her an apprenticeship. But this is not all, there is unrest in the city of Two Castles. The people don’t like the noble ogre that passes though their city and sure enough Elodie and her master become involved in what could be a threat to the ogre himself. But how can a new apprentice save an ogre, a noble ogre to boot? That is what you find out.

There are only two irks I had with it though because they peeved me. The first was that the dragon gender is not told, no one knows it except the dragon itself. Come on just tell us! I thought more than once because the IT pronoun bothered me. Also some of the sentences sounded weird to me. I’d have to look over the sentences sometimes. It might’ve been because there were words that I didn’t know, which I didn’t expect from a juvenile book but I don’t have a big vocabulary like our dragon does. I know these peeves are probably just me but still, I was peeved.

Elodie’s relationship with the dragon, the ogre, and the princess are all unique you could say. The dragon is kind of like a grouchy old man. The ogre has a very vulnerable side that was so unexpected and the princess is ‘flighty’ (as Elodie says).

I always like going to good old fashioned fantasy, there is just so much imagination in it. Looks like there will be a sequel, if not I'll be even more peeved.
Profile Image for CozyReaderKelly.
421 reviews73 followers
March 3, 2019
4.5 stars - Gail Carson Levine has completely charmed me over the past year. This was my third book by her, and I really loved it. It definitely is targeted towards a younger audience than some of her others, so know that going in if you expect it to be more for early teens. I would say this would be for elementary aged children.

I really enjoyed the main character, Elodie, and her relationships built with the ogre and dragon in the story. She started out very naive, and many times I shook my head at her actions, before reminding myself she is 12 and from a small village. Throughout the book she grows so much and learns that because someone is seen as a "monster" does not mean they are bad inside, and the same that a "beautiful" person does not make someone good. She is clever and funny and shows herself to be very courageous when put into difficult situations.

This book is also a detective type story, where Elodie is learning to deduce facts from her observances. It would be good for teaching kids to pay attention to details in their surroundings. The mystery also brought some exciting scenes to the story.

The storyline did get a bit repetitive sometimes, so I couldn't give it a full 5 stars, but I really enjoyed reading it, and think it will be fun to read with my girls once they get a little older.
Profile Image for Tia.
916 reviews328 followers
February 27, 2021
Why can’t I have a dragon friend?!
I loved this book. I’m really wavering between 4 and 5 stars. I loved the mix of fantasy and mystery and Meenore, the dragon, is one of my new all time favorite characters.
Profile Image for Karissa.
3,912 reviews192 followers
April 18, 2011
Previously I had read Levine's book Fairest and really did not enjoy it. A number of people told me to give Levine another chance, so when I saw this book up at NetGalley.com I decided to give it a read. It was an okay book. While I liked it a little better than Fairest I still thought it was pretty boring, that the plot was over-simplified, and the characters very two-dimensional.

Elodie is twelve years old and is sent to the city to start her apprenticeship as a weaver. Of course Elodie has ideas of her own and instead of being a weaver wants to apprentice as a mansioner. Things never go as planned and Elodie finds herself instead serving as an assistant to the brilliant dragon Meenore. Together Elodie and Meenore must solve the mystery of who is out to get the shapeshifting Ogre that is the lord of the castle.

More than anything this book is a mystery; the dragon and the ogre give some fantasy elements to the story but not much. Elodie is a plucky twelve year old who thinks she can do whatever she wants. She does a pretty good job of it, but comes across as a bit two-dimensional. Her story does not seem at all realistic and things tend to go her way more often than not. Elodie never dwells on the bad aspects of things that happen to her and doesn't seem to fully realize the implications of anything that happens to her. While this gives the book a positive feel; it also sends a false message that if you wander blindly into situations you will be rewarded.

The dragon Meenore starts off as a intriguing character but in the end doesn't have any more depth than Elodie. In fact all of the characters in this book seem to be more like character sketches than actual thinking, feeling characters. They are all a bit blah.

The plot is simplistic and the outcome easy to predict. None of the characters are ever in very dire situations and I didn't feel all that engaged in the story at any point in time. The writing style itself is also very simplistic: characterization, vocabulary, plot, and world-building are all kept to a minimum. This gives the book a very child-like feel.

Levine is trying to create a whole new world in this book, yet as the reader I had trouble grasping it. Some of the things added into the book made the world feel a bit contrived; like they were put in there just to make the world different and for no other reason than that. For example the characters always exchanging food and the way the characters (especially the princess) like to use "la" as a an exclamation. Things like that didn't really have a deeper purpose and didn't really add to the story.

The story ends well enough. It looks like there is potential for future adventures between Meenore and Elodie. The story is suitable for all ages; but seems targeted at a middle grade or younger audience because of the simplicity.

Overall the book was an okay read, but definitely nothing special. Everything about this story is boring and oversimplified. This could be a good read for young girls who are interested in mystery with a fantastical element to it.

Personally I think there are much more interesting, complex, and rewarding middle grade fantasy novels out there. Princess Ben is one that was better and has some meat to it, Princess Academy is another great read. For middle grade readers other series such as Fablehaven, Harry Potter, and Percy and the Olympians create wonderful worlds with complex characters that actually assume that middle grade readers can handle complexity. I will not be reading anything from Levine in the future; I have concluded that her writing style and me just don't get along.
Profile Image for Christina (A Reader of Fictions).
4,230 reviews1,651 followers
May 15, 2011
My only prior experience with Gail Carson Levine was Ella Enchanted, which, honestly, I did not like. I had seen the movie first and thought it was better (if not necessarily good). Still, I wanted to give Levine another chance because I know so many people who adore her books. Plus, I love fairy tales and she does tons of those.

A Tale of Two Castles fits into that mold; it is a revisionist, postmodern telling of Puss in the Boots. The ogre who can change into any animal is there, as is the miller's son who inherited no property and uses his cat to make money dishonestly. However, the good guys in the fairy tale are the bad guys here, and vice versa. The ogre is vulnerable to cats, peculiarly so. Apparently, cats wish so hard for him to become a mouse that he cannot help doing so. I think that's ridiculous, because if it works for cats, a whole bunch of people, if they could agree, ought to be able to wish him into a particular form as well.

Another thing that annoyed me about this story was its repetitiveness. There were certain words and concepts that Levine kept using, so much so that it rather felt like some sort of lesson intended to teach children the meaning of terms like 'whited sepulchre.' A quirk of her fantasy world was that dragons were meant to be genderless, at least so far as humans are allowed to know, so they are to be called IT. Not It or it, IT. Ugh! The dragon's laugh also irritated me: 'enh enh enh.'

The dragon was still, perhaps, a better character than Elodie. She does not seem to have been very well conceived, as some of her traits are remarkably inconsistent. She begins as the starry-eyed arrival, a stupid farm girl, with no skill for anything but acting. She is trusting of people who, from my point of view, are obviously hiding something and mistrusting of those who only want to help her. The only scenes where I liked her at all were those where she mansioned (especially when she acted out Thisbe with an apple as her Pyramus).

The moment that would have made me throw the book across the room, if I weren't reading it as an e-book on my computer, was when suddenly Elodie, country bumpkin, knew everything about poisons ever: "I sniffed my bowl. The scent was faint but detectable: eastern wasp powder...The poison acted in an hour or two, caused chills, fever, tremors, a tight throat, death" (190). Really? There was no attempt at an explanation for why Elodie would ever know this.

Also awkward was Elodie's relationship with the ogre. She says that she loves him, but I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a friend love or a they're going to get married someday love. I also don't know how that would work and I have no idea how old he is. So, I was mostly just creeped out by the possibility.

A Tale of Two Castles had a lot of possibility, but was very poorly executed, with uneven characters, use of diction that felt like a vocabulary lesson, and unclear resolution.
Profile Image for Eden.
1,108 reviews87 followers
May 29, 2019
Elodie is a 12-year-old farm girl that has set off for Two Castles to become mansioner. Things don't quite go as she planned and Elodie ends up as an assistant for a Dragon. Soon her employer sends her off on a dangerous mission into an ogre's castle.

It has been a while since I've read anything by Gail Carson Levine but this book reminded me why I love her.

Her books are charming and sweet. And full of much magic, which I love. I think it is quite cool that a Dragon was a prominent character in the book. Elodie was a likeable character also.

Overall, this is a very fun book.
Profile Image for Miranda.
512 reviews118 followers
March 21, 2011
I had a hard time getting into A Tale of Two Castles. I’m not sure what it is--I LOVE Levine’s books, in that I will gladly devour anything she releases, but this one just did not work for me for some reason. The writing seemed kind of jumbled at times, more focused on rushing through scenes so we could get more details on the setting. At times it honestly felt like more an exercise in world building than it did an actual fully realized novel. In the beginning the book throws a lot of terms and information at you and expects you to catch on quickly and follow along without trouble. I tend to prefer a book that slowly eases me into the world and introduces new concepts one at a time, not all at once. The world is very clearly realized, however, and once again Levine does a great job at creating a fantastical world.

I did like some of the characters. Elodie was cute, though not Levine’s best heroine, and I was a little interested in her relationship with the dragon Meenore, but there wasn’t as much focus on that once Elodie gets to the ogre’s castle. The constant wondering and joking about whether or not Meenore was a male or female got old fast, though, as did the countless capitalized ITs in reference to Meenore. In the end, does Meenore’s sex really matter? Elodie’s reluctance and slowly building trust with the dragon was nice, and I did like how Meenore was a detective of sorts. It’s not every day you read about a dragon that’s a detective on the side. I think the character I liked most was Renn, actually, the daughter of the king that lives in the other castle and who is betrothed to the ogre. She was fun to read about, and I instantly latched on to her voice and personality.

Also of note was how Elodie’s story ended. It was a good ending for her, I thought, and I do like how the story focuses more on her friendships with various people rather than a romantic relationship. I also could have never guessed the villain, though there were a few hints along the way that I missed. All in all I don’t think this was Levine’s best work, and I’m truly sorry that I don’t think higher of it. It’s kind of forgettable, really. There was nothing that really stuck out to me as being her usual greatness. It’s charming at times, and I’m sure younger fans will enjoy it, but I think others should go for her retelling of Snow White, Ever, or the bind up of all her fantastic Princess Tales.

ARC received from NetGalley.
Profile Image for Julie.
432 reviews24 followers
June 13, 2011
Update: 3.5 stars.

Two Castles is sure to please Levine's fans. Several people have asked me if it is "as good" as Ella Enchanted, Levine's best-known title and winner of a Newbery Honor. That's a hard question to answer. Ella Enchanted is such a unique and clever book that I'm not sure Levine will ever top it. It was the equivalent of a lightning strike: unexpected, dazzling, and not something that can be replicated easily. However, lucky for us, Levine is an imaginative and skilled writer who is more than capable of producing delightful tales in the same spirit as her most famous book. That spirit being, of course, a richly imagined, once-upon-a-time kind of fantasy featuring resourceful, quick-thinking heroines. Fans of all things fairy tale will be glad to know that Two Castles fits squarely into Levine's mold (without feeling like a re-tread) and is a welcome addition to her oeuvre.

Recommended for anyone seeking a middle grade mystery or fantasy novel, a book with a proactive heroine, or a story that features theatre and acting as a plot device.

* * * * * * *

I might have squealed inside when I saw this title in a stack of ARCs. First, Carson Levine, no further explanation necessary. Second, a girl teams with a DRAGON to solve MYSTERIES. I know! Why am I typing this and not reading it? Clearly, I need to re-think my life's direction.
Profile Image for Ceilidh.
233 reviews568 followers
April 12, 2011
A wonderfully imaginative book jam packed full of charm. Gail Carson Levine's crafted a fun, exciting MG book that's entertaining for all ages but doesn't talk down to its intended age group. If you're part of the generation that was brought up on Ella Enchanted, The Princess Bride and The Goonies, you'll definitely have a lot of fun with this book. Elodie is a fun and surprisingly charismatic narrator who I think a lot of kids will enjoy reading about and the world Levine has created has something for everyone: ogres, dragons, cat thieves, actresses, mystery, humour, wit and a whole lot of charm.

I'll probably write a more detailed review when I'm not swamped under with exam work. It's a little predictable but the journey is so much fun that you won't care too much. It's definitely a fun little book I think a lot of kids will enjoy, and definitely a few bigger kids too.
Profile Image for April.
2,101 reviews950 followers
July 2, 2012
I am pretty sure everyone who begins a book enters the book hoping to love it. With a select few books that people may start off with their fists swinging, I think the vast majority of us want to love what we read. I am not immune to this, nor do I ever want to be immune to the desire to fall for new words and worlds. Unfortunately, I ultimately did not love A Tale Of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, despite my hopes.

Read the rest of my review here
Profile Image for Sha.
167 reviews13 followers
October 4, 2018
Gail Carson Levine got me started on fantasy with Ella Enchanted (which has a movie adaptation that I love, but the book is even better). The Two Princesses of Bamarre makes me cry every time I read it and I can never get over the themes and writing in Fairest. What you need to know, right here and now, is that GCL is my fantasy QUEEN. But A Tale of Two Castles is perhaps the pauper in her writing kingdom.

This book is a re-read for me, and it fell a little flat during my first read (maybe three years ago?). I could have done this review on any of her books that I already proclaimed my absolute faves BUT for some reason wanted to return to AToTC to see if my opinion changed. (SPOILER: it didn't.) But please oh please, do not let anything I say here deter you from any of her other books. Because there are several reasons AToTC is not like her previous writing.

A Tale of Two Castles is aimed at younger readers than Levine's usual books. Levine's niche is definitely YA, more specifically 12 to 16. You might have spooky creatures but nothing that will haunt your worst nightmares; there may be deaths, but never anything near graphic. To *very simply* sum up her style, the MC will go on an adventure and experience a new world that challenges her previous lifestyle/worldview. Clearly, great for teens who are similarly going through life changes (minus the dragons and fairies and ogres). Buuuuut as I said, AToTC is pitched a little lower: the main character is twelve and very clearly acts and speaks like a twelve year old. She can be impetuous and rash. The writing style is similarly simplified for a pre-teen audience. There are a lot of short, to-the-point sentences and ideas are repeated (in case you didn't get it the first time).

I knew that AToTC was pitched for lower ages, which is why it took me a long time to buy it in the first place AND partly why I don't blame GCL for why I dislike this book. I mean, it's clearly not aimed at me. Sure, I can love and enjoy YA (that sort of is/sort of isn't aimed at me, considering I'm now twenty-two) but that is certainly different from pre-teen lit. YA will have complex sentence structure (should have!), morally ambiguous characters, intertwining plot. ATOTC had a little of that ... but in the sense that a toe was being dipped in the water. As an an older reader, I felt like I was reading half a book, but I can imagine that this plotline was more than enough for younger readers.

But alright. Let me review the actual book now instead of explaining why I think what I think. As the book description says, Elodie heads to the town of Two Castles to become a actress. She finds out pretty fast that her dream isn't possible because she has no money. The theme of poverty runs throughout the book, not investigated enough for my tastes but explored well for a young reader book. For example, on her first day in town, Elodie is starving with only three coppers to her name. She trails after a woman selling marzipan delicacies and imagines how wonderful they would taste. She also longs for a cap, which she realizes all the women in Two Castles wear, and almost spends her last copper buying one.

Elodie is as much a frustrating main character as she is realistic. I had to pause sometimes to remind myself She's only twelve!!! She doesn't know better! Sometimes Elodie would make the dumbest mistakes, like persistently trust because they were attractive. But she is only twelve, so I knew I had to cut her slack. She also made a lot of really smart decisions, and part of plot relied on her learning to "induce and deduce and use common sense" from her new masteress, the dragon Meenore. Part of Elodie's teachings included not jumping to conclusions, which was a smart lesson to include in a young reader book.

Meenore the dragon confused me? The book characterizes dragons as very secretive of their gender, so all people must refer to dragons as "IT." Now, I may just be thinking too hard about all of this. But why would dragons be secretive about their gender? As a result, Elodie spends a lot of the book trying to guess at Meenore's gender ... which is an uncomfortable situation (for me to read) at best. It's very unlikely that Levine was making a broader statement about gender identity, but this just did not translate well. I didn't see the overall point (particularly since GCL usually tries to make overall points with her writing) and just ended up confused. If you have thoughts, please share.

In terms of plot, the book is fairly straightforwards. Elodie ends up in the employ of Meenore, and rapidly ends up trying to find out who is trying to harm the ogre, Count Jonty Um. I did find the investigation a little all over the place, so if you want to guess who did it, good luck with that. The way Elodie "gathers clues" is a bit confusing and when the culprits are revealed it's kind of thrown in all at once and wrapped up with a bow. BUT the book kept good pacing and each character tied into the plot well. The ending, though rapid, made sense. So I accept the mini rollercoaster I ended up on.

Do I suggest this book? Probably not, to be honest. If you're older than fifteen I don't think you'll enjoy the writing style or narrative voice. But if you're younger, then definitely check out this book and every other GCL book is s-t-e-l-l-a-r. Three crowns because this book did everything it was supposed to, just ended up in the hands of the wrong age group.

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Profile Image for Pamela Bronson.
262 reviews6 followers
January 18, 2021
This is actually the second time I've read this, but I forgot almost everything (which is useful in some ways).

As with the author's more famous Ella Enchanted, this book is a based on a fairy tale, but it is changed even more drastically. Why do we assume ogres are bad and cats and their owners are good? (I personally love cats, but don't approve of them eating humanoids in any form.) It adds a charming and valiant protagonist, Elodie, and a fascinating dragon. Again there is ambiguity - is the dragon good or bad, safe or dangerous? Elodie's mother warned her against "whited sepulchres" - people who appear kind and helpful but cannot be trusted. Few characters in this book are what they seem, but some are at least no worse than they seem.

The fairy tale becomes a whodunit - a double whodunit, really, though it is not at first clear whether murders have actually been committed or only attempted.

In the end all is resolved - well, almost all - and while the book ends properly, it also sets up for the sequel which has now been published. I hope to read it before I have completely forgotten this book again.

There is nothing inappropriate for young readers or listeners, unless you count the 12-year-old heroine's tendency to stretch the truth.
Profile Image for Charly Troff (ReaderTurnedWriter).
1,122 reviews25 followers
March 24, 2019
Another fun read from one of my favorite authors! This isn't my favorite by her, but I still found it very enjoyable.

One of my favorite parts was getting to know the characters. Elodie is a funny, naive at times, brave girl who cares about others and forms heart warming friendships. The dragon is unique and surprising in some ways, but still a clever dragon and the combination made me laugh. The ogre is kind and misunderstood and the side characters are never quite what they seem. Another favorite part of the book for me was the mystery aspect; Elodie spends the book solving the mystery with the dragon and that was honestly just fun. The pacing was great, the writing charming, and the ending was just what I wanted it to be.

My main complaint feels trivial, the dragon is referred to as IT throughout the entire book. This really detracted from the reading experience for me. While I enjoyed the story, it was a simpler plot with a more obvious ending.

Overall, if you have enjoyed Carson's books in the past or enjoy middle grade fantasy, this is definitely one to try!
Profile Image for Danya.
485 reviews22 followers
February 15, 2015
The name Gail Carson Levine may sound familiar – she’s the author of several wildly popular children’s fantasy books, including Ella Enchanted and The Two Princesses of Bamarre. I read and adored both of those books when I was in elementary school, so when I saw that she had started a new series it seemed like a no-brainer to jump on board. While I did enjoy it, I ultimately found that comparing A Tale of Two Castles to Carson Levine’s older works didn’t do the new book any favours.

A Tale of Two Castles is a children’s book, most likely geared towards kids in grades 4-6, so don’t expect a particularly sophisticated plot or writing style. What you can expect is a charming cast of characters, a cute mystery, and a heroine with a unique dream. Twelve year-old Elodie dreams of becoming a mansioner (the fancy term for actors) and sets off on her own to seek an apprenticeship in the city. It’s not until she gets there that Elodie realizes the prices for apprenticeships have increased drastically…and she cannot afford one. The poor girl has a run of seriously bad luck her first day in Two Castles: she worries about money, gets scared of the big crowds, and even gets mugged by a cat (don’t ask).

Much like Carson Levine’s older works, A Tale of Two Castles has a didactic quality. In English-major speak, that basically means that the book has an educational goal; in this case, to teach kids that judging people based on appearances is liable to get you in some seriously hot water. In one of the opening scenes, Elodie’s mother tells her to beware the “whited sepulchre,” a metaphor for someone that looks good on the outside but is decidedly less appealing on the inside. Unfortunately Elodie has a tendency to trust the wrong people, so she encounters her fair share of whited sepulchres. While some readers may find her naivety annoying, I could appreciate it since Elodie had no reason to be otherwise. The fact that she’s completely alone in a new place, supporting herself financially, and chasing her dream career made me forget that Elodie’s only twelve.

The city of Two Castles is named after – you guessed it! – the two castles on the city’s outskirts, one belonging to the human king and another to an ogre. The Ogre, Count Jaunty Um (the kind of name you only find in a children’s fantasy novel), may look intimidating but he’s definitely got a gentle giant thing going on. Despite that, Jaunty Um is hated and feared by the people of Two Castles…just because he’s an ogre. Even though the human king is known for his greed and warmongering, he’s still afforded more respect than the Count by the townspeople. Watch out for that whited sepulchre, people!

For all its simplicity in plot and style, there was a very interesting and surprising exploration of gender in A Tale of Two Castles. For dragons, there are no physical characteristics that distinguish a male dragon from a female dragon – only the dragon itself can know its gender. They get very huffy if you assume one way or the other, so Elodie and the other people of Two Castles are very careful to refer to dragons with gender neutral pronouns. The correct title for a dragon is “Masteress,” a blend of master and mistress. I thought “Masteress” was adorable and I think it could lead to some very important discussions between parents and children about our assumptions on gender in contemporary society. That said, I do wish that Carson Levine didn’t capitalize the gender neutral pronouns every time they were used. Reading “ITS” every other page got tiring pretty quickly.

The dragon Masteress Meenore was by far my favourite character. Cantankerous and exacting, Meenore is an obsessive compulsive cleaner and the best deductive reasoned in the city. Because of Meenore’s unique skills, the dragon is often called to solve crimes – and since Two Castles is overrun by pickpockets, Meenore is pretty busy. The dragon needs help advertising its investigative services and performing other minor tasks, so Elodie is invited to come work for Meenore. The young girl may not have an apprenticeship as a mansioner, but it’s going to take all of her acting skills to help a dragon, befriend an ogre, and catch a thief…

I would recommend A Tale of Two Castles as a read-aloud for parents and their kids, and also to advanced young readers who like mysteries and light fantasy. While the book has its charms, more mature readers may want to look elsewhere.

Profile Image for Elinor  Loredan.
497 reviews28 followers
August 17, 2013
La! (as Princess Renn would say) I hate to admit that I am disappointed with this one. I started out hooked, following strong and independent Elodie with her mansioning ambitions (though she is rather grown up for 12 and I would like to know how her desire to act formed). The storytelling was nice and simple, with simple descriptions and conversation, not trying to do anything grandiose. Count Jonty Um, the tender ogre, and IT, Elodie's tough but sympathetic masteress, are immediately likeable, and Levine introduces characters and details later central to the plot. I settled down with wonderful anticipation of an absorbing tale.

Alack! (again, Princess Renn) I started to lose interest a little when Elodie goes to the Count's castle, moving the plot in different directions. The loss of interest is partly due to the fact that I was expecting most of the story to take place in the city, which was so well drawn, and I wanted to stay in IT lair. Plus, Elodie relocates without flinching, and that is when I start to lose my connection with her. From then on, it is hard to tell what motivates her--love for the ogre or wanting to impress IT, or both. She doesn't really say in thoughts or words. She loses me. I expected her to struggle with being an assistant detective to IT when she really wanted to mansion, but she did it all without seeming to mind a bit.

I realize that a mystery is supposed to be nebulous, but the main character never should be, for me, anyway. A plot, however cleverly done, is generally not enough to keep me engaged if I'm not connected with the main character. I connect with Elodie again a few times, when she is accepted as an apprentice and when she is imprisoned, and yet the narrative leading up to those events didn't build up enough emotional value for them to be convincing.

IT wasn't quite as charming as I had hoped IT would be; I was hoping for more rambling about inducing and deducing and so on. Her part really wan't that major. I almost like Vollys, the dragon from Levine's Two Princesses of Bamarre, better, though Vollys is a 'bad guy'.

The suspects are well done in Two Castles--I keep doubting and guessing on them the whole way. But I just can't say I really enjoyed the story or found it meaningful in the way that I have with Levine's other novels.
Profile Image for Alice Janell.
Author 2 books12 followers
March 1, 2011
Whether or not you've read Gail Carson Levine before, you are still probably familiar with her work. Levine is probably most known for being the author of "Ella Enchanted", which is, of course, a cute movie starring Anne Hathaway.

If you enjoyed "Ella Enchanted" (the book or the movie), you'll enjoy "A Tale of Two Castles."

Young Elodie is sent from her home and across the sea to Two Castles, where her parents hope she'll train to be a weaver, but Elodie hopes to become an actress. When she arrives, however, her luck goes south almost right away.

Her money is stolen by a cat and she isn't accepted into the actor's guild. But when the dragon Masteress Leenor offers Elodie a job as an assistant, Elodie finds herself headfirst on a dangerous mission inside an ogre's castle.

Even though the ogre has a heart of gold, his ugly appearance has someone wanting him dead, and it's up to Elodie to find out who. Then there is the constant danger of the whited sepulcher --- someone beautiful who has a heart filled with evil.

With dragons, ogres, thieving cats, and wide array different characters, "A Tale of Two Castles" shows young readers not to judge people based on appearances alone.

Even though Elodie is 12 years old, she reads much older, and it's very easy to forget that she's so young. As much as I loved Elodie, I loved the dragon so much more. Leenor is witty, but with a cheeky sense of humor. The dragon teaches Elodie to use deduction and common sense to solve riddles and problems.

Older readers may discover the villian right away, but it doesn't distract from the overall story. I think readers of all ages will enjoy this cute and fun read.

Four stars.
Profile Image for LauraW.
751 reviews17 followers
November 14, 2014
I am not terribly fond of the mystery genre for kids. Too often the mysteries seem to be more contrived than genuine - a large cast of suspicious characters, blatant clues, blatant red herrings, etc. This book had some of those characteristics, but not to excess and they were balanced, luckily, by some interesting characterizations. The dragon, IT, seemed especially interesting to me, but several other characters were also intriguing.

I found the use of the words mansioning and mansioner to be slightly distracting and I don't quite understand the impetus for their use. "Acting" and "actor" would have served just as well for me.

There were some slow spots in the narrative that didn't especially appeal to me - for example, the cavorting of the monkey and the long description of the play-acting with the guards. Those might appeal to kids, however, so I am discounting my impatience with them.

All in all a reasonably interesting book.
Profile Image for Annie Cristina.
26 reviews28 followers
February 25, 2011
It's not a perfect book, but then again, I did read a galley, so perhaps the final version will be more polished. My biggest gripe in this book might be silly, but I was annoyed by the repetition of the all caps in "IT" (which the narrator uses to mention her Masteress, the dragon, whose gender she does not know and is too afraid to ask). Still, it was a fun read. Gail Carson Levine excels at creating fantastical worlds, as she did in Ella Enchanted. The characters are both sympathetic and interesting. I have a feeling there will be a sequel to this book, because the ending seems to set one up. Here's hoping!
Profile Image for Miss Clark.
2,531 reviews198 followers
August 18, 2011
This was one of the most boring, uninteresting books I have read all summer. Elements that should have yielded a good story merely prolonged the slow death of all and any interest in the story.

How can ELLA have been so enjoyable and this so bland?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Linliny.
115 reviews1 follower
August 16, 2022
As a child, I loved Gail Carson Levine. Or, I at least loved Ella Enchanted and Fairest. The Two Princesses of Bamarre was pretty good, too. But Ever was pretty bad, in my opinion, and kind of left a sour taste in my mouth. So when I saw this book, I hoped it would be reminiscent of Levine's books that I loved, and that it would remove that bad taste left by Ever.

Eh, I wouldn't say this book was bad, exactly. Just really, really, really weird, and I just couldn't get into it. And I like weird. But this book has ogres who shapeshift into mice when cats stare at them for long enough, and that's a major plot point. And the citizens all own and train cats to do their bidding because they live in fear of the ogre. But the ogre is still a nobleman who lives in a castle somehow. I don't get it.

And I wasn't too fond of the characters, either. There's a dragon detective who laughs constantly (eh-eh-eh) and makes the most half-baked deductions I've ever heard. Elodie questions everything, including constantly debating whether or not the dragon is a male or female. ('Was that a womanly hand flourish? It must be a female dragon! No, it bowed. Then it must be a male.' That kind of thing. It was very annoying.) She's also lacking any common sense whatsoever. And I spotted the 'whited sepulchre' as soon as they entered the story.

It's hard to say, but I don't think this is a case of me being too old for the story. I don't think I would have liked it much as a kid, either. The whole thing just annoyed me. I didn't get it at all. I still feel like I can't give it one star because it's not actually poorly written or anything. But I think I'll just re-read Ella Enchanted next time.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
Author 1 book132 followers
September 2, 2017
Really interesting premise for a Middle Grade, in that the overall theme is one of learning to identify people who seem nice at first and turn out to be bad news. How to spot Whited Sepultures in the big city. I also enjoyed that there was an ungendered character ("it's no one's business if a Dragon is a He or a She except the Dragon") though an all-caps use of IT/IT's for pronouns did not become less clunky.
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