Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Castle of Shadows, Ellen Renner: Princess Gets Dealt a Bad Hand

Castle of Shadows is a children's fantasy story set in a country called Quale which seemed to be loosely based on Georgian Britain. A near neighbour has recently become a republic and is threatening war. The king is mad and the proud nation is in decline.

The story follows Charlie, the near feral Princess of Quale. Her mother vanished many years ago and this event sent her father mad, endlessly making towers out of cards, awaiting the  invention of the Guinness Book of Records (I made that last bit up). Now Charlie is uncared for, dressed in rags and fed gruel, seeking revenge on those servants who slight her or her father.

It isn't long before Charlie discovers a clue to why her mother vanished and she quickly turns detective. Fortuitously Toby works in the castle. He is the greatest pick-lock in the world and joins Charlie in her quest.

The story rattles along incorporating strange and disturbing characters from a butler who seems to be half mole, a housekeeper who creaks like a ship under sail and an old drunk who guards the palace at night. Hard times indeed in Quale. But the characters are enjoyable and believable, Toby has a colourful way with language and the sparks really fly between him and Charlie through most of the book.

During the second half of the story things get a lot more complicated and I a couple of times found myself confused, especially with descriptions of how Charlie and Toby sneak from the Palace grounds. but an exciting conclusion looms which kept me turning the pages...

But, for me, the ending didn't live up to the build up. Mainly because in the finale Charlie seems to be a bystander. And I was left feeling a little flat which is a shame as the story up until this point was enjoyable and gripping. Saying that though I know there is a sequel and I'll be reading it.

It has a really good cover that adds to the feel of the book. Well done again cover designers!

Castle of Shadows costs about £4.

City of Thieves is the sequel, also about £4.