Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

Green Bean Teen Queen hosts a meme on Tuesdays called Tween Tuesday where great books for tweens are featured. 

More of my Tween Tuesday posts.

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine
Release Date: May 10, 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages: 216
Received: ARC from Net Galley
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

Mysteries abound, especially in Two Castles.

A handsome cat trainer, black-and-white cats, thieves on four legs and two, suspicious townsfolk, a greedy king, a giddy princess, a shape-shifting ogre, a brilliant dragon. Which is the villainous whited sepulcher?

Elodie journeys to the town of Two Castles to become a mansioner—an actress—but luck is against her. She is saved from starvation by the dragon Meenore, who sends her on a dangerous mission inside the ogre's castle. There, disguised as a kitchen maid at an ogre's feast, she finds herself cast in the role of a lifetime and pitted against a foe intent on murder.

Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine weaves an entrancing tale of a fearsome ogre, a dragon detective, and a remarkable heroine, who finds friendship where she least expects it, learns that there are many ways to mansion, and discovers that goodness and evil come in all shapes and sizes.


I’ve only read one other Gail Carson Levine book before (The Two Princesses of Bamarre), but I already notice a pattern to her writing. I hope this pattern holds true, because GCL appears to be an author I can go to when I want a light and sweet MG fantasy book that will hold my interest and make me feel good.

The dragon Meenore was the biggest draw for me. This character is just one of those feel good characters that acts tough but has a secret soft spot for the main character. I love these kinds of characters and the way they capture that childhood feeling of a parent that may at times say no, but they are always filled with boundless love and protection. The other secondary characters were equally vibrant and fulfilled their roles perfectly.

The only character I didn’t like was actually the main character, Elodie. She wasn’t horrible, but there was just something about her that rubbed me the wrong way and made it difficult for me to relate to her. This is why I didn’t give the book a higher rating, though she didn’t irritate me enough to significantly lower my rating. Readers with a passion for acting will probably enjoy Elodie.

Also appreciated is GCL’s unique approach to fantasy. As in The Two Princesses of Bamarre, the creatures here are largely original creations. Ogres are common creatures in fantasy, but in GCL’s hands, an ogre becomes an entirely new being capable of shape shifting. Learning about her creatures and the rules surrounding them was almost as interesting as the story.

What kept me turning the pages the most was the mystery. It was paced nicely and kept me guessing more than other MG books, though I did figure things out before the reveal. Meenore coaches Elodie on inductive and deductive reasoning, urging her to collect clues and apply these techniques. This was an entertaining way to advance the plot and keep the reader engaged, though readers not familiar with the techniques may be confused as to the differences between the two approaches.

I have already placed an order for this book for my library’s collection. It should be a hit with Gail Carson Levine fans and MG readers who enjoy fantasy with mystery elements (think The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede, though not as funny).

Note on my edition: I read an ARC from Net Galley that was 216 pages. Goodreads has this book listed at 320 pages, so I wonder if my version is missing a significant part of the book. The version I read didn’t strike me as incomplete at all, so I’m curious to see how the finished version compares.

 Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

This book satisfies the following challenges: 

Looking for another by Gail Carson Levine? 
You might like: 
The Two Princesses of Bamarre


  1. I've had the page difference between goodreads and netgalley happen a lot to me-I'm wondering if it might be formatting? I don't know why though...

    Glad to see a positive review of this; I have it queued and will be reading it soonish. I'm excited to read about Meenore; I love dragons!

    I also want to recommend Ella Enchanted for you to read; it's the book that made me fall in love with GCL.

  2. Sounds great!
    I loved the Two Princesses - it actually helped me understand a few things about my own relationship with my big sis - and Ella Enchanted.

    Completely agree with you that GCL has a fresh approach to creatures and what they can do.
    I'm going to add this to my shopping list for when I head up north next month. :)

    Thanks for sharing, I hadn't even heard of this book.

  3. A feel good book that keeps you guessing. Sounds really good even though I don't read much middle grade. Great review :)

  4. It probably is a different version, you know different size of the pages,font,etc. I don't believe NetGalley giving us incomplete books.

    Anyway, i'm happy you liked it. Now i'm getting excited about it :)

  5. A Tale of Two Castles sounds like such a sweet story - perfect for some of my upper elementary readers who feel ready for something a little more grown up. I'll be curious to see if the "official" version is any different from the ARC!

  6. I think that sometimes the NetGalley books don't have page breaks for chapters and things, so it's possible that if there are a lot of chapters or sections that the page count comes up quite short. Still, 100+ is a LOT of missing pages!

  7. Great review. I think this is another one of those light fantasy books which I would easily fancy. I'm going to add it to my TBR list. Its sounds really good. I love dragons, too.

  8. I have only read one or two of Gail's books, but this one sounds very good! Thanks for bringing it to my attention :)

    Nice review!

  9. I have this one in my TBR pile! I really like her short fairy stories. I also like that this one has a bit of mystery to it. Sad you didn't like the main character as much, but sometimes they can be annoying!:)

  10. I should check this out. Light hearted fantasy is good for a change. I agree that a hard to like character - or hard to relate to one - can really affect one's view of a book. Glad the plot was still good enough to mostly make up for it.

  11. Stop posting great books that I need to add to my list of books that should be checked out from the library! No, on second thought don't stop because I might actually get through my TBR pile and need new material! ^_~

    GoodReads had my edition of Moby Dick listed at over 100 pages when in truth it's over 600 pages. It's fixed now, but yeah the site has its bugs at time.

  12. Bookworm1858, I think you may be right with formatting. It is a lot of pages, but I think Delirium was significantly different too (maybe 300 something pages on Net Galley). I guess it’s possible. I’ll be looking out for your review. I hope you like it! I know I so need to read Ella Enchanted! I’m practically ashamed that I haven’t already read it.

    Alex, I love it when books help me with RL relationships. I hope you like this book!

    Nic, I enjoyed it. It’s definitely MG, but it’s not “dumbed down” MG if you know what I mean.

    Yiota, I think you’re right. Now that I think about it more, the formatting was pretty off. The pages were scrunched and there weren’t nice breaks between chapters. I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t put two and two together! :) I don’t doubt Net Galley, but I know sometimes ARCs can be different from the official version.

    Katie, Yes, that is the perfect age for this book.

    Logan, 100 pages really is a lot of missing pages, but now that you’ve all mentioned formatting, I do remember how wonky the formatting was. I can see it now and it probably does work out to be about that many pages.

    Gina, Thanks! I hope you like it! Between The Two Princess of Bamarre and this one, I liked Two Princesses better (there’s a dragon there too), but this one is a very close second.

    Kelsey, You’re welcome!

    GreenBeanTeenQueen, I think part of my problem with the MC is just that she was “young” and very, very into acting, which I just didn’t relate with. I don’t think MG kids will have a problem with her. The mystery made it fun. I’ve read one of her fairy short stories and thought I was very cute.

    Alison, I hope you enjoy it. The MC isn’t bad and I can’t even put my finger on my issue with her. There were just a few points where I was thinking, “Uh, Elodie, grow up” but she’s young, so it’s excusable :)

    BookishHobbit, Haha I will never stop trying to increase TBRs everywhere! I’m inclined to think it’s more a result of formatting differences now than an error on GR’s part. Amazon matches GR too.


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