Saturday, 23 January 2010

Castle of Shadows by Ellen Renner

7th January 2010, Orchard Books
344 pages (number in published book may differ from this proof copy), Paperback
Review copy (Uncorrected proof)

Young Adult, Fantasy

Cushions: 4
Daggers: 2
Smiles: 2
Tears: 2
Yunaleska's recommended rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Summary from Orchard Books

The day Charlie discovers a scrap of paper that could solve the dark mystery of her mother's disappearance, her world changes. Forever.
Charlie and her friend, Toby, must race against time on a dangerous mission to uncover the sinister truth. But in this shadowy world of secrets and lies, there is more to fear than they can possibly imagine...

When I think of princesses in fiction, I tend to think 'fiesty, a little misunderstood, always up against an adversary within the castle, their royal position could be in jeopardy'. Princess Charlie - also known as Her Royal Highness, Princess Charlotte Augusta Johanna Hortense of Quale - is also a ruffian. She can hold her own in a fight (or at least try to), she speaks her mind frequently. Her intelligence is initially misunderstood by her enemies, but unfortunately their sharp eyes figure out what Charlie wants to do next. And yes, there are many adversaries in the castle.

Some, such as the tyrannous housekeeper Mrs O'Dair, would rather Charlie didn't exist. Mrs O'Dair neglects Charlie's clothes, her education, and general wellbeing. This changes when Charlie searches out the truth for her mother: she meets the Prime Minister who, upon learning of that neglection ensures that Charlie has new clothes and has countless lessons which eventually help Charlie in her quest. There are others, like the gossiping servants who just think little of Charlie. And there are the adversaries whose dark identities remain hidden for a good portion of the novel.

Thankfully Charlie has a few friends who provide her with comfort, tea and a game or two of chess. They also help her as much as they can as she fights against the enemy to find her mother and learn the truth about why she disappeared.

Charlie has a lot to deal with. Initially she roams the castle, doing as she pleases (sort of). But her life isn't carefree. She constantly worries about her father, who has a screw loose in his head. Why else would he constantly build huge towers of card, yellowing at anyone who disturbs the air of the room? Charlie's love for him drive her forward in the quest for the truth. I was near tears at several points of the story: Charlie longs for normality, for parents who are present both in body and in spirit.

Often I had my hand near my mouth: I was so worried for Charlie's safety. The enemy is always there, right on her heels. So much more is at stake than finding her mother - the security of the country rests on succeeding in the mission Charlie has taken upon her young shoulders. People aren't afraid to remind her that her presence isn't welcome and she must be obedient if she wishes to survive. Charlie follows their orders to a certain point - there comes a moment where she just can't help but get involved.

All the people who help Charlie, including Toby, are more than what they seem. Charlie has a certain image of them, but later on in the story she unearths further truth about who they are, and what they do. These revelations have a dramatic effect on what Charlie does next. I like the mistakes that Charlie makes, because they show how human she is, that she is still a child. However, she has a lot of maturity within her, a maturity which I feel is formed from the mental state of her father, and her ability to understand the precarious position she is in. This is definitely a book I'll reread many times.

Try Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore


Becky said...

Thank you so much for reviewung this. I've been wondering if i should read this as part of my 2010 debut author challenge. Your reviews has made my mind up. I will buy a copy. Yay!

Yunaleska said...

Whoohoo! :D (No, I don't get commission for promoting books. But buying books helps keep authors writing, so go buy!)

My work here is succeeding :)

prophecygirl said...

This does sound very good. I read a good review over at Chicklish too, so I put it on my wish list. There are some great debut authors this year.

Thanks for the review!

Luisa at Chicklish said...

Oh, I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Thank you for the review.