A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

A Tale of Two Castles, by Gail Carson Levine, was published in 2011 by Harper.

Elodie journeys to the town of Two Castles to become a mansioner—an actress—but the master of the troupe turns her away. Brilliant dragon Meenore takes her in, then sends her on a dangerous mission within an ogre’s castle. There, disguised as a kitchen maid, she plays the role of a lifetime, pitted against a foe intent on murder. Black-and-white cats, a handsome cat trainer, a greedy king, a giddy princess, a shape-shifting ogre, a brilliant dragon…Elodie must discover which of them is kind, which is cruel, and, most of all which is the one who deserves her trust.

Rating: 4/5

A Tale of Two Castles is just the sort of simple fantasy I love—enough worldbuilding so that the reader understands what’s going on, a smart, compelling protagonist who isn’t particularly gutsy or strong but still accomplishes things, and humor. There’s also an obvious shout-out to “Puss in Boots” all throughout the novel, though I wouldn’t call this a retelling at all.

I also liked the correlation between logic and emotion, where Meenore, in the beginning, scorns feelings and relies only on “induction and deduction and logic” but towards the end of the novel clearly has become fond of Elodie and uses those feelings in making decisions along with her logic. Levine might have been trying to make the point that logic without feeling makes one cold or perhaps the natural progression of things simply makes it seem that she did it purposefully, but either way, there’s a good deal here to discuss regarding the relationship between logic and emotion.

The plot is also a fun little mystery, with too many suspects and not enough clues until everything clicks into place. And, mild spoiler here, the suspect is one that is the most unsuspicious of them all, at least in my opinion, which makes the ending reveal delightfully surprising. Levine did a great job with her red herrings and speculations, having enough to make it realistic but not enough to make it seem over-the-top and contrived.

A Tale of Two Castles is delightful, with an intriguing mystery, interesting and unique characters, and solid worldbuilding. It was much better than I initially thought it would be, and a pleasant, fun read after the messy fantasies I’ve read lately. I haven’t read any of Levine’s works since The Two Princesses of Bamarre, but I’m glad I picked this one up.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

The count approached IT. “Three skewers, if you please.”

What about everyone in line? That was no true If you please. Clearly an ogre did what he liked, no matter the inconvenience to small folk.

“It’s isn’t fair!” burst out of me.

The silence seemed to crystallize.

Enh enh enh, IT laughed, possibly in anticipation of seeing me squeezed to death in one enormous hand.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2nlbs8X

The Two Princesses of Bamarre: If You Haven’t Read Any Gail Carson Levine Yet, You Need To

 The Two Princesses of Bamarre is written by Gail Carson Levine, of Ella Enchanted fame. It was published in 2001 by HarperCollins. Levine’s website can be found here.

Genre: Fantasy

Summary/Blurb:

“The two princesses of Bamarre couldn’t be more different. Princess Addie is fearful and shy. Her deepest wish is for safety. Princess Meryl is bold and brave. Her deepest wish is to save the kingdom of Bamarre. They are sisters, and they mean the world to each other.

Then disaster strikes, and Addie—terrified and unprepared—sets out on a perilous quest. In her path are the monsters of Bamarre: ogres, specters, gryphons, and dragons. Addie must battle them, but times is running out, and the sisters’ lives—and Bamarre’s fate—hang in the balance.”

~Inside Flap

Cover Art 1

Passages/Quotes:

“Meryl understood me, although we were as different as could be. She was fair, and I was dark complexioned. She was small and compact, a concentration of focused energy. I was always tall for my age, and loose-limbed, and my energy was nervous and fluttery. Meryl was brave, and I was afraid of almost everything—from monsters to strangers to spiders.”

~Levine 2

Within the moldering,

Noxious hoard,

Drualt’s living hand

Found the sword

 Of long-dead hero

Arkule. Yune’s claws

Raked her festering pile

And almost plucked out Drualt’s

Keen right eye.

A claw found instead

Drualt’s scorched shoulder.

The dragon shrieked her triumph:

‘You’re mine now. Mine!

Mine to burn, mine to crisp,

Mine to kill.’

She lifted Drualt.

And on that upward journey

To his doom,

Drualt thrust Gore-gouger

Into Yune’s soft flesh

And plunged Arkule’s long

And ancient sword

Into Yune’s stony heart.”

~Levine 39-40

Warnings: None.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Rating: 5/5

Cover Art 2

What I Liked:

This was a thoroughly fun book to read. The plot was obvious (except for one part of the ending that I honestly did not expect), but Levine takes the reader on a great journey along with Addie. All the standards of fantasy are in there, but there is still great originality as well. The poem segments about Drualt are great.

Addie is the type of heroine I love: shy and scared, who doesn’t want to go out adventuring but has to because of dire circumstances and comes back changed because of it. “Your sister could lead a charge, but you could last a siege,” a character tells her (I think it was Vollys). Hooray for siege-lasters!

Rhys, oh, Rhys. You’re adorable. Also, don’t think too much about the romance in the plot; if you do, you might get sad or squicked out or both. Just appreciate it for its cuteness and let it go at that.

What I Didn’t Like:

I didn’t like Meryl that much, to be honest. I don’t even know why. Maybe because I liked Addie so much that the contrast between her and Meryl cast Meryl in an unfavorable light to me. I have no idea.

Fanart by GYES-8 on deviantart

Overall Review:

The Two Princesses of Bamarre is an enjoyable book with a great heroine and a plot that, while obvious, is fun and even a little thrilling at times. Addie is fantastic and her encounter with Vollys is the best part of the book in my opinion. Gail Carson Levine delivers once again.

Coming Up Next: Flyte by Angie Sage