Bonnie (A Backwards Story)'s Reviews > A Tale of Two Castles

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine
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Apr 30, 2011

bookshelves: fairy-tales, 2011

Gail Carson Levine is one of THE authors fairy tale readers turn to and list as a Master Writer. In fact, the only children’s book on my Top Five Favorites list is Ella Enchanted. Granted, I’m sure a lot of that is the nostalgia talking, but there it remains. When I heard that Levine had a new middle-grade novel coming out, I leapt to read it and saved it for the final Fairy Tale Fortnight Stop. While the novel wasn’t the best of the fourteen I’ve read, it was adorable and took me back to my fairy tale roots. I would have loved this novel when I was younger!

While A Tale of Two Cities may not be the most profound fairy tale novel, it’s utterly charming. Elodie is a plucky heroine full of spunk. After leaving home to become an apprentice in Two Castles, her only copper is stolen from her and she’s left with no money at all. Rather than wallow, however, she sets off to become a mansioner (actress), but when she’s refused as an apprentice, she winds up working for a dragon named Meenore. Most of the villagers are afraid of the dragon—and even more petrified when it comes to the ogre, Count Jonty Um, living in one of the city’s two castles. Not our Elodie, however. After an initial burst of fear (and who could blame her), she realizes that these “monsters” are kind souls who aren’t given enough credit. Yes, there is a hidden message in this novel: It’s what’s on the inside that counts—and Meenore and Count Jonty Um have hearts of gold. Levine initially based the story off the legend of Puss in Boots, which, if you recall, has Puss heading off to the castle to challenge the ogre to shape-shift. Count Jonty Um can also shape-shift, and Two Castles is full of cats that would like nothing more than to see him turn into a mouse. When this horrible occurrence happens, Elodie finds herself with a full-blown mystery on her hands. Who is trying to get rid of County Jonty Um, and why would anyone poison the king of the second castle in Two Castles? As Meenore’s apprentice, she’s expected to learn “Deduction, induction, and common sense.” Can the two discover the truth behind what’s going on before it’s too late?

Mixing a mystery with a fantasy in such a way was a brave move on Levine’s part, and a break from her normal fare. She does so with ease, however, creating an engaging mystery that will leave readers looking at every character through new eyes as they try to figure out “whodunit.” There’s a lot of room for future adventures with Meenore and Elodie, which would be welcome stories in the fantasy genre.

In addition to the mystery, one of my favorite things was the way Levine created Meenore. I haven’t read many novels with dragons, but the ones I have are all vastly different from one another. One of my favorite lines from the novel came when Elodie saw Meenore’s wings for the first time: “The wing was a mosaic of flat triangles, each tinted a different hue, no color exactly the same. Black lines of sinew held the triangles together, as lead holds the glass in a stained-glass window. The tinted skin, in every shade of pink, blue yellow, and violet, was gossamer thin. I saw raindrops bead on the other side” (pg 45). In addition, Levine uses Meenore’s smoke when describing the dragon’s mood, from dull scales when annoyed to bright pink smoke and red scales when angry, to gray smoke for sadness and white spirals of smoke when happy. Seeing such detail describe a dragon’s mood was a visual treat that I always looked forward to.

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