A Tale of Two Castles


Gail Carson Levine


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

August 2, 2020

ordered this book from the library immediately after reading Ella Enchanted - I really enjoy that book, and I wanted to see what else Ms. Levine was capable of writing. I also liked this novel. It wasn't as perfect as Ella Enchanted, but still worth pickiing up.

A Tale of Two Castles is really the tale of Elodie, a twelve year old girl who leaves her loving but poverty-stricken family to venture off to the big city of Two Castles to seek her fortune. Elodie's plan is to apprentice herself to the guild of performers, which are called mansioners. But as Elodie sails to Two Castles, one of the other passengers informs her that guilds no longer accept "free apprentices" - a system by which an apprentice works for free for ten years in exchange for learning the trade and being accepted into the guild. Elodie has just a single copper to her name, there is no way she can afford to pay for an apprenticeship. She can't even afford return passage back to her destitute family. To make matters worse, a thieving cat swipes Elodie's copper when she tries to purchase some food.

Because this is a young adult novel, nothing too terrible befalls a twelve year old girl on her own in a strange, big city. Using her sharp wits, Elodie impresses Meenore, a boastful dragon who works as a detective. Meenore hires Elodie to be his assistant - thus she is protected, has food and shelter, and gets thrust into the middle of dangerous mystery.

The mystery to be solved is: who would want to harm the Ogre, the Count Jonty Um? It turns out many people have reason to hate the ogre - his parents were fearful monsters and despite the fact that they are now gone, the humans all assume the Jonty Um must have the same nasty traits, despite the fact that he only acts kindly to everyone. Meenore assigns Elodie to work in the Ogre's castle to see if she can ferret out who would want to poison the Count. It turns out to be a challenging assignment - there a multiple suspects within the castle, and it looks certain that there will be another attempt on the Ogre's life. Fortunately, Princess Renn teams up with Elodie, the two of them can search for whomever stole the Ogre's loyal dog (the disappearance of Nesspa, the dog, is taken as a sign that the Ogre is threatened).

A couple of points in this novel didn't seem quite right to me, which is why I only awarded it four stars. Elodie is just twelve years old, to me, that is simply too young to be venturing out on your own, even in medieval era where kids had to grown up quickly. I think it would have been more plausible if Elodie had indeed been the fourteen year old that she claimed to be. I was also puzzled about the cats. Why did all of the guests bring cats to the Ogre's ball - was there a conspiracy that was not unmasked? Why did the Ogre transform into a mouse when there were so many cats about? Even for a young adult novel, the punishment of the villain at the end was mild. Medieval justice was harsh, and King Grenville, as portrayed in this novel, was not a merciful man. The gender of the dragon Meenore is unknown - is Meenore a male or female? With the question unresolved, Elodie refers to the dragon as Masteress, which is an awkward phrase. For a pronoun, the dragon is referred to as IT, with all capital letters, another awkward bit of wordsmithing. Why is the gender of the dragon even important? The topic is not relevant to the plot. Elodie is warned many times to be on the lookout for a whited sepulcher, a phrase that I did not recognize. It was used so many times in this novel that I finally looked it up - a whited sepulcher is a tomb, on the outside it looks like bright polished marble, but inside are decaying corpses - a white sepulcher is a hypocrite.

Despite the title, all of the tale takes place in the city or in the castle of the Ogre. The second castle belongs to the King, but that edifice plays no role in this story. Levine must admired Dickens' title, and decided to use this (forced) title as a homage to Dickens'. Would a sequel to Elodie's adventure be called A Tale of Two Cathedrals? Apparently not, because there is a sequel already, and it is called Stolen Magic. The adventures of Elodie were entertaining, and so I plan to read more of Levine's works.