A Tale of Two Castles
by Gail Carson Levine
I’ve had a good stretch lately, where I’ve been reading at a ferocious pace. But I suddenly came to a grinding halt a few days ago. Nothing I was reading was inspiring me to keep turning pages. At times like that, a trick that often perks me up is to read a young adult book and I lose myself in pure story. That’s what I did, and it worked like a charm.
Actually, I didn’t lose myself in A Tale of Two Castles right away. It took a while because at the start of the novel Gail Carson Levine is working mightily on the world building. The story opens with a goodbye. Twelve-year-old Elodie is saying goodbye to her parents, her home, and everything she’s ever known. She’s leaving her island and the farm and sailing off to the city of Two Castles which features—you guessed it—two castles. It is time for her to become apprenticed. “Mother and father’s instructions were to apprentice myself to a weaver, but I would not. Mansioner. I mouthed the word into the wind, the word that held my future. Mansioner.”
So begins a relations ship based on “deduction, induction, and common sense,” in which each learns from the other. Mastress Meenore has many trades including food service, heating, finder of lost objects, and unraveler of mysteries. So it is that the ogre, Count Jonty Um, comes to Meenore seeking help finding a lost dog. But it turns out that that is merely the beginning of his troubles. The ogre is in danger, and so Elodie becomes Meenore’s eyes and ears in his castle as they work to unravel the larger mystery.