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.
Twelve year old Elodie is off to seek her fortune in the town of Two Castles. Her parents believe they are sending her to become an apprentice weaver but Elodie has her own plans- she wants to join the mansioners and become an actress.
But Elodie’s plans soon go awry and she finds herself in an unfamiliar city with no money and no job. Luckily for Elodie the intelligent, mystery-solving dragon has taken an interest in her and offers Elodie a position as her apprentice. And as the dragon’s apprentice Elodie has her first mystery to solve involving the local Ogre, who everyone hates, and his missing cat. But Elodie quickly discovers that this mystery is a lot more sinister than her and the dragon had at first suspected and it will take all of her skill to get to the bottom of it.
A Tale of Two Castles is a charming and enjoyable story with a delightful cast of characters that really brings the story to life. Levine has a knack for creating young protagonists that endear themselves to readers of all ages, and Elodie is no exception. She’s spirited and smart and eager for adventure, and soon Elodie has all the adventure she can handle. There is also M, an intelligent dragon that makes its living selling skewers of cheese and bread to the townspeople, and solves mysteries on the side. And finally, there is the shape-changing Ogre who just wants to be liked by the townspeople but is instead hated and feared because of his cruel father.
I enjoyed following along with Elodie as she works to unravel the mystery, using the lessons that the dragon had imparted to her. Along the way she makes some new friends and even gets a slight crush on the handsome cat-trainer, though Elodie remains unentangled by romance, which I found refreshing. Towards the middle of the book, as Elodie visits the different townspeople to question them, the pace did slow a bit too much for me and I had some trouble staying focused. I think this is something that Levine is going to have to work on when writing more children's mysteries. I was also a bit distracted by the fact that the dragon is constantly referred to as IT (since dragons keep their gender a secret). I don’t know why but my gaze kept snagging on those two capitalized letters, pulling me out of the story.
A Tale of Two Castles is a book that most kids will enjoy and which will appeal to many adult readers as well. After finishing it I was glad to see that Levine plans to follow it up with more books featuring this unlikely mystery- solving team and I for one will be looking forward to reading them, as well as sharing them with my own children.