Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Castles (Gail Carson Levine)

A Tale of Two Castles
Gail Carson Levine
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: When Elodie left the small family farm to find her fortune in the city of Two Castles, her parents gave her plenty of advice. Never correct your elders. Keep your thoughts to yourself. Beware the false friend - the whited sepulcher, in common parlance. Be truthful. And above all else, avoid the company of ogres and dragons! Ogres are brutish and unreliable, able to assume any animal shape at will, and dragons... well, they won't even trust a human enough to reveal their gender. There is only one of each in Two Castles: Count Jonty Um, the ogre who owns the castle not held by the greedy king, and Masteress Meenore, who has lived among the people since IT hatched a century ago and has yet to incinerate a single soul (so far as anyone has seen.) The odds of Elodie meeting either seem slim to none. Besides, she's going to Two Castles to apprentice herself as a mansioner - an actress - and likely will be on the road before long. But from the first day, her journey goes wrong... and she finds herself apprenticed not to Master Sulow of the mansioners, but to Meenore! The dragon fancies ITself a detective, despite most people in Two Castles only valuing ITs services as a water heater and roaster of meat-and-cheese skewers in the market square. Under Meenore's wing, Elodie discovers new uses for her acting talents, as she helps investigate a dangerous plot that might shake the city, and the kingdom, to its very core.

REVIEW: I've read and enjoyed other works be Levine, and I liked the idea of a draconic Sherlock. For what it is, it's not a bad little jaunt. Elodie must learn to trust both her heart and her brain, rather than relying on others and their advice to do her thinking for her. Meenore makes a decent detective and an interesting dragon, ITs behavior just unpredictable enough to remind Elodie, and the reader, that IT is not just a scaled human being. As for the other characters, most have a little more to them than initially meets the eye, as befitting a mystery. For some reason, though, I just didn't feel it came together quite as neatly as Levine's other books. There were almost too many elements vying for attention: Elodie and her mansioning dreams, Meenore the unappreciated detective, hints of international espionage, a worthless glutton of a king, a message about prejudice... all mixed into a story that takes Puss in Boots and turns the tale on its ear, with the ogre being more sympathetic than the miller's son or his cat. My attention kept getting interrupted as this or that element rose up in my path. In the end, though, it proves a fair read, with a good mix of suspense, danger, and even humor, all suffused with fairy tale magic.
As a closing note, in the bonus material Levine mentions that she might revisit Elodie and Meenore in future sleuthing adventures. It might make for a fun series.

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