by Gail Carson Levine
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Reading level: MG
When twelve-year-old Elodie is sent to the city of Two Castles to become an apprentice weaver, she doesn't realize that the rules of the kingdom have recently been changed and now all apprentices must pay to learn their craft. Almost penniless, naïve, and with more exciting ambitions than weaving, Elodie decides to follow a new path... and ends up as a dragon's assistant!
The dragon is known throughout the city for its inducing and deducing powers. So when the city's resident ogre suspects he is in mortal danger, he turns to the dragon -- and Elodie -- to help discover who is behind the plot.
This is the fifth book by Gail Carson Levine that I've read. I can't really say it's up there with some of my favourites (like The Two Princesses of Bamarre and Ella Enchanted), but it is an entertaining middle grade novel nonetheless.
Unlike most of the author's other heroines, Elodie is only twelve years old, and she comes across as very young and quite (especially in the beginning) naïve. This made it a bit difficult for me to relate to her. Her voice is distinctive and she's not unlikeable; she's just young. I did find it a little difficult to believe that parents would ship children of that age off, completely alone, so they could apprentice to some stranger in a foreign land. I don't know... something about that just doesn't sit right with me. I realize that that happened in the past, but all I could think about was this poor, vulnerable little girl who would be ripe for abuse by the first ill-intentioned person who came along.
There were some high points for me, nonetheless. I really liked Meenore, the dragon. (One of my favourite characters in The Two Princesses of Bamarre was the dragon Vollys. Gail Carson Levine can really write dragons!) And I loved what the author did with the names. It was very clever, and I almost didn't pick up on it. (Hint: Say the names out loud.)
I loved the world-building in the beginning, when Elodie was first discovering the city of Two Castles and describing everything she saw and experienced. The plot seemed to take a while to get going, though. When Elodie was taken on as the dragon's assistant and then hired by Count Jonty Um (the ogre) to investigate who might be trying to harm him, I thought things were finally going somewhere. But, for whatever reason, the story seemed to lose its momentum when Elodie arrived at the ogre's castle. I nearly lost all interest and almost didn't finish.
That would have been unfortunate, because after a few more chapters, the story became like a boulder rolling down a hill. Events tumbled quickly, one after the other, to a conclusion that neatly wrapped up most of the mysteries (and left room for a possible sequel). The plot itself wasn't bad; it was mostly the pacing that was off.
All in all, A Tale of Two Castles isn't a bad read... but it seems like it's for a younger audience than some of the author's other books. It's a true middle grade fantasy (as opposed to books like Ella Enchanted and Ever, which fall squarely in the YA category).
Overall: 3.57 out of 5