Book Review: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins – 2011)

Despite the fact that Gail Carson Levine is unarguably a household name for Ella Enchanted, I had never heard of this book until a friend of mine recommended it to me. She couldn’t remember the exact title but got enough of it down for my sister to track it down.

The book focuses on a girl named Elodie who travels to the city of Two Castles because her parents want her to become a weaver. Elodie, who dreams of acting, has other ideas until the hard realities of life get in her way. It seems Elodie might not make it in Two Castles until the dragon Meenore sweeps in. Meenore is a detective and offers Elodie the chance to put her acting to the test—as a spy.

Yes, this is a fantasy mystery, complete with dragons and ogres, and it is a page-turner. Levine does a fantastic job of keeping the reader guessing (at least, she kept me guessing). It wasn’t until shortly before the end that I was sure who was behind the intrigue. Elodie is a well-rounded character with plenty of likes, dislikes, and dreams to make her feel startlingly realistic for a novel clearly intended for the 10-14 age range. Even Meenore who we only see from Elodie’s perspective and through an often-mysterious veil has a richly developed personality and background.

There are a lot of concepts in this story that set it apart from your average dragon fantasy. Meenore, our resident dragon, is a detective by trade and actually somewhat laughed at by the populace. Dragons in this world are very mysterious, however, to the point that no one but the dragon itself actually knows its gender. They are referred to as “IT” and “ITS”—and yes, in all caps, too. At times, both of these aspects are used to comedic effect pretty successfully.

Now, having said all this, the book is definitely geared toward pre-teens and early teens. While it can still be enjoyed by an adult (I had a great time reading it), the writing is definitely a bit more simplistic. At times, things are spelled out a little too much for me (but then, I’m not the intended audience). I’d still recommend A Tale of Two Castles as a light read, especially for the fun elements that I high-lighted above, but don’t expect to go down any big philosophical rabbit-holes. And if you weren’t looking for anything heavy, great! Sit back and enjoy the ride.

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