Monday, April 18, 2011

Early Review - A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine (2.5/5 stars)

A Tale of Two CastlesReading level: Middle Grade
Genre: Fantasy
Size: 336 pages

Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: May 10, 2011
ISBN-13:  978-0061229657
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: eGalley from
Rating: 2.5/5 stars


Previously I had read Levine's book Fairest and really did not enjoy it.  A number of people told me to give Levine another chance, so when I saw this book up at I decided to give it a read.  It was an okay book.  While I liked it a little better than Fairest I still thought it was pretty boring, that the plot was over-simplified, and the characters very two-dimensional.

Elodie is twelve years old and is sent to the city to start her apprenticeship as a weaver.  Of course Elodie has ideas of her own and instead of being a weaver wants to apprentice as a mansioner.  Things never go as planned and Elodie finds herself instead serving as an assistant to the brilliant dragon Meenore.  Together Elodie and Meenore must solve the mystery of who is out to get the shapeshifting Ogre that is the lord of the castle.

More than anything this book is a mystery; the dragon and the ogre give some fantasy elements to the story but not much.  Elodie is a plucky twelve year old who thinks she can do whatever she wants.  She does a pretty good job of it, but comes across as a bit two-dimensional.  Her story does not seem at all realistic and things tend to go her way more often than not.  Elodie never dwells on the bad aspects of things that happen to her and doesn't seem to fully realize the implications of anything that happens to her.  While this gives the book a positive feel; it also sends a false message that if you wander blindly into situations you will be rewarded.

The dragon Meenore starts off as a intriguing character but in the end doesn't have any more depth than Elodie.  In fact all of the characters in this book seem to be more like character sketches than actual thinking, feeling characters.  They are all a bit blah.

The plot is simplistic and the outcome easy to predict.  None of the characters are ever in very dire situations and I didn't feel all that engaged in the story at any point in time.  The writing style itself is also very simplistic:  characterization, vocabulary, plot, and world-building are all kept to a minimum.  This gives the book a very child-like feel.

Levine is trying to create a whole new world in this book, yet as the reader I had trouble grasping it.  Some of the things added into the book made the world feel a bit contrived; like they were put in there just to make the world different and for no other reason than that.  For example the characters always exchanging food and the way the characters (especially the princess) like to use "la" as a an exclamation.  Things like that didn't really have a deeper purpose and didn't really add to the story.

The story ends well enough.  It looks like there is potential for future adventures between Meenore and Elodie.  The story is suitable for all ages; but seems targeted at a middle grade or younger audience because of the simplicity.

Overall the book was an okay read, but definitely nothing special.  Everything about this story is boring and oversimplified.  This could be a good read for young girls who are interested in mystery with a fantastical element to it. 

Personally I think there are much more interesting, complex, and rewarding middle grade fantasy novels out there.  Princess Ben is one that was better and has some meat to it, Princess Academy is another great read.  For middle grade readers other series such as Fablehaven, Harry Potter, and Percy and the Olympians create wonderful worlds with complex characters that actually assume that middle grade readers can handle complexity.  I will not be reading anything from Levine in the future; I have concluded that I just don't get along with her writing style.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- 100+ Reading Challenge
- E-book Reading Challenge
- Fantasy Reading Challenge

A Tale of Two Castles 

1 comment:

  1. Oof, sorry this didn't work for you. I really loved Ella Enchanted (only the book, NOT the movie) but I agree that the other books I've read by this author just haven't measured up. Definitely oversimplified and kinda syrup-y.

    Thanks for the review!