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A Tale of Two Castles

A Tale of Two Castles

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A Tale of Two Castles

peringkat:
4/5 (51 peringkat)
Panjangnya:
280 pages
3 hours
Penerbit:
Dirilis:
May 10, 2011
ISBN:
9780062098382
Format:
Buku

Deskripsi

Newbery Honor author of Ella Enchanted Gail Carson Levine weaves a spellbinding tale about a clever heroine, a dragon detective, and a shape-shifting ogre.

Newly arrived in the town of Two Castles, Elodie unexpectedly becomes the assistant to a brilliant dragon named Meenore--and together, they begin to solve mysteries. 

Their most important case concerns the town’s shape-shifting ogre, Count Jonty Um, who believes someone is plotting against him. Elodie must disguise herself to discover the source of the threat amid a cast of characters that includes a greedy king, a giddy princess, and a handsome cat trainer.

Readers who loved Ella Enchanted and Fairest will delight in this tale of a spirited heroine who finds friendship where she least expects it and discovers that goodness comes in all shapes and sizes.

Penerbit:
Dirilis:
May 10, 2011
ISBN:
9780062098382
Format:
Buku

Tentang penulis

Gail Carson Levine's first book for children, Ella Enchanted, was a Newbery Honor Book. Levine's other books include Ever, a New York Times bestseller; Fairest, a Best Book of the Year for Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, and a New York Times bestseller; Dave at Night, an ALA Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults; The Wish; The Two Princesses of Bamarre; A Tale of Two Castles; and the six Princess Tales books. She is also the author of the nonfiction books Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly and Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink, as well as the picture books Betsy Who Cried Wolf and Betsy Red Hoodie. Gail Carson Levine and her husband, David, live in a two-centuries-old farmhouse in the Hudson Valley of New York State.


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A Tale of Two Castles - Gail Carson Levine

Chapter One

Mother wiped her eyes on her sleeve and held me tight. I wept onto her shoulder. She released me while I went on weeping. A tear slipped into the strait through a crack in the wooden dock. Salt water to salt water, a drop of me in the brine that would separate me from home.

Father’s eyes were red. He pulled me into a hug, too. Albin stood to the side a few feet and blew his nose with a honk. He could blow his nose a dozen ways. A honk was the saddest.

The master of the cog called from the gangplank, The tide won’t wait.

I shouldered my satchel.

Mother began, Lodie—

"Elodie, I said, brushing away tears. My whole name."

Elodie, she said, don’t correct your elders. Keep your thoughts private. You are mistaken as often—

—as anyone, I said.

Elodie . . . , Father said, sounding nasal, stay clear of the crafty dragons and the shape-shifting ogres. He took an uneven breath. Don’t befriend them! They won’t bother you if you—

—don’t bother them, I said, glancing at Albin, who shrugged. He was the only one of us who’d ever been in the company of an ogre or a dragon. Soon I would be near both. At least one of each lived in the town of Two Castles. The castle that wasn’t the king’s belonged to an ogre.

Don’t finish your elders’ sentences, Lodie, Mother said.

"Elodie." I wondered if Father’s adage was true. Maybe ogres and dragons bothered you especially if you didn’t bother them. I would be glad to meet either one—if I had a quick means of escape.

Albin said, "Remember, Elodie: If you have to speak to a dragon, call it IT, never him or her or he or she."

I nodded. Only a dragon knows ITs gender.

Mother bent so her face was level with mine. Worse than ogres or dragons . . . beware the whited sepulcher.

The whited sepulcher was Mother’s great worry. I wanted to soothe her, but her instruction seemed impossible to follow. A sepulcher is a tomb. A whited sepulcher is someone who seems good but is, in truth, evil. How would I know?

The geese—Mother straightened, and her voice caught— will look for you tomorrow.

The geese! My tears flowed again. I hated the geese, but I would miss them.

Mother flicked a gull’s feather off my shoulder. You’re but a baby!

I went to Albin and hugged him, too. He whispered into my hair, Be what you must be.

The master of the cog roared, We’re off!

I ran, leaped over a coil of rope, caught my foot, and went sprawling. Lambs and calves! Behind me, Mother cried out. I scrambled up, dusty but unharmed. I laughed through my tears and raced up the plank. A seaman drew it in.

The sail, decorated with the faded image of a winged fish, bellied in the breeze. We skimmed away from the dock. If fate was kind, in ten years I would see my parents and Albin again. If fate was cruel, never.

As they shrank, Mother losing her tallness, Father his girth, Albin his long beard, I waved. They waved back and didn’t stop. The last I could make out of them, they were still waving.

The island of Lahnt diminished, too. For the first time it seemed precious, with its wooded slopes and snowy peaks, the highest wreathed in clouds. I wished I could pick out Dair Mountain, where our Potluck Farm perched.

Farewell to my homeland. Farewell to my childhood.

Mother and Father’s instructions were to apprentice myself to a weaver, but I would not. Mansioner. I mouthed the word into the wind, the word that held my future. Mansioner. Actor. Mansioner of myth and fable. Mother and Father would understand once I found a master or mistress to serve and could join the guild someday.

Leaning into the ship’s bulwarks, I felt the purse, hidden under my apron, which held my little knife, a lock of hair from one of Albin’s mansioning wigs, a pretty pink stone, a perfect shell from the beach this morning, and a single copper, which Father judged enough to feed me until I became apprenticed. Unless the winds blew against us, we would reach Two Castles, capital of the kingdom of Lepai, in two or three days, in time for Guild Week, when masters took on new apprentices. I might see the king or the ogre, if one of them came through town, but I was unlikely to enter either castle.

I had no desire to see King Grenville III, who liked war and taxes so much that his subjects called him Greedy Grenny. Lepai was a small kingdom, but bigger by half than when he’d mounted the throne—and so were our taxes bigger by half, or so Mother said. The king was believed to have his combative eye on Tair, Lahnt’s neighbor across the wide side of the strait.

Queen Sofie had died a decade ago, but I did hope to see the king’s daughter, Princess Renn, who was rumored to be somehow peculiar. A mansioner is interested in peculiarity.

And a mansioner observes. I turned away from home. To my left, three rowers toiled on a single oar. The one in the center called, Pu-u-u-ll, with each stroke. I heard his mate across the deck call the same. Father had told me the oars were for steering and the sail for speed. The deck between me and the far bulwark teemed with seamen, passengers, a donkey, and two cows.

A seaman climbed the mast. The cog master pushed his way between an elderly goodman and his goodwife and elbowed the cows until they let him pass. He disappeared down the stairs to the hold, where the cargo was stored. I would remember his swagger, the way he rolled his shoulders, and how widely he stepped.

The deck tilted into a swell. I felt a chill, although the air was warm for mid-October.

Go, honey, move. Listen to Dess. Listen, honey, honey. A small man, thin but for fleshy cheeks and a double chin, the owner of the donkey and the cows, coaxed his animals into a space between the bulwark and the stairs to the rear upper deck. He carried a covered basket in his right hand, heavy, because his shoulder sagged. Come, honey.

His speech reminded me of Father with our animals at home. Good, Vashie, he’d tell our cow, Good girl, what a good girl. Perhaps if I’d repeated myself with the geese, they’d have liked me better.

The elderly goodwife opened her sack and removed a cloak, which she spread on the deck. Holding her husband’s hand, she lowered herself and sat. He sat at her side on the cloak. The other passengers also began to mark out their plots of deck, their tiny homesteads.

I wasn’t sure yet where I wanted my place to be. Near the elderly couple, who might have tales to tell?

Not far from them, a family established their claim. To my surprise, the daughter wore a cap. In Lahnt women wore caps, but not girls, except for warmth in winter. Her kirtle and her mother’s weren’t as full as mine, but their sleeves hung down as far as their knuckles, and their skirt hems half covered their shoes, which had pointed toes, unlike my rounded ones.

The cog dropped into a slough in the sea, and my stomach dropped with it. We rose again, but my belly liked that no better. I leaned against the bulwark for better balance.

My mouth filled with saliva. I swallowed again and again. Nothing in the world was still, not the racing clouds nor the rippling sail nor the pitching ship.

The son in the family pointed at me and cried, Her face is green wax!

My stomach surged into my throat. I turned and heaved my breakfast over the side. Even after the food was gone, my stomach continued to rise and sink.

Next to me, a fellow passenger whimpered and groaned.

I stared down at the foamy water churning by, sicker than I had ever been. Still, the mansioner in me was in glory. Lambs and calves! I would remember how it was to feel so foul. I wondered if I could transform my face to green wax without paint, just by memory.

The cog rose higher than it had so far and fell farther. I vomited bile and then gasped for breath. The bulwark railing pressed into my sorry stomach.

The person at my side panted out, Raise your head. Look at the horizon.

My head seemed in the only reasonable position, but I lifted it. The island of Lahnt had vanished. The horizon was splendidly flat and still. My insides continued bobbing, but less.

Here. A hand touched mine on the railing. Pepper-mint. Suck on it.

The leaf was fresh, not dried, and the clean taste helped. Thank you, mistress. My eyes feared to let go of the horizon, so I couldn’t see my benefactress. Her voice was musical, although not young. She might be the old goodwife.

I’ve crossed many times and always begun by being sick. Her voice lilted in amusement. She seemed to have found respite enough from her suffering to speak more than a few words. I’ve exhausted my goodman’s sympathy. She sighed. I still hope to become a good sailor someday. You are young to travel alone.

Mother and Father didn’t have passage money for more than me. Not so young, mistress. Here I was, contradicting my elders again. I am fourteen. Contradicting and lying.

Ah.

I was tall enough for fourteen, although perhaps not curvy enough. I risked a sideways peek to see if she believed me, but she still faced the horizon and didn’t meet my eyes. I took in her profile: long forehead, knob of a nose, weathered skin, deep lines around her mouth, gray wisps escaping her hood, a few hairs sprouting from her chin—a likeable, honest face.

Conversation keeps the mind off the belly, she said, and I saw a gap in her upper teeth.

The ship dropped. I felt myself go greener. My eyes snapped back to the horizon.

We will be visiting our children and their children in Two Castles. Why do you cross?

She was as nosy as I was! I seek an apprenticeship as—I put force into my hoarse, seasick voice—a mansioner.

Ah, she said again. Your parents sent you off to be a mansioner.

I knew she didn’t believe me now. To be a weaver, I admitted. Lambs and calves! Oh, I didn’t mean to use the farm expression. To stay indoors, to repeat a task endlessly, to squint in lamplight . . . , I burst out. It is against my nature!

To have your hands seize up before you’re old, the goodwife said with feeling, your shoulders blaze with pain, your feet spread. Be not a weaver nor a spinner!

Contrarily, I found myself defending Father’s wishes for me. Weaving is honest, steady work, mistress. I laughed at myself. But I won’t be a weaver.

The boat dipped sideways. My stomach emptied itself of nothing.

She gave me another mint leaf. Why a mansioner?

I love spectacles and stories. Mansioning had been my ambition since I was seven and a caravan of mansions came to our country market.

Then, when I was nine, Albin left his mansioning troupe and came to live with us and help Father farm. He passed his spare time telling me mansioners’ tales and showing me how to act them out. He said I had promise.

I love theater, too, the goodwife said, but I never dreamed of being a mansioner.

I like to be other people, mistress. Lowering my pitch and adding a quiver, I said, I can mimic a little. I went back to my true voice. That’s not right. I hadn’t caught her tone.

She chuckled. If you were trying to be me, you were on the right path. How long an apprenticeship will you serve?

Masters were paid five silver coins to teach an apprentice for five years, three silvers for seven years. The apprentice labored for no pay during that term and learned a trade.

Ten years, mistress. Ten-year apprenticeships cost nothing. Our family was too poor to buy me a place.

The cog dipped lower than ever. I sucked hard on the mint.

My dear. She touched my arm. I’m sorry.

No need for sorrow. I’ll know my craft well by the time I’m twenty-two . . . I mean, twenty-four.

Not that. In June the guilds abolished ten-year apprenticeships. Now everyone must pay to learn a trade.

I turned to her. Her face was serious. It was true.

The boat pitched, but my stomach steadied while a rock formed there.

Chapter Two

What will you do?" the goodwife asked.

I will think of something. I sounded dignified. Dignity had always eluded me before. I excused myself from the goodwife’s company and found a spot on the deck closer to the cows than to the human passengers. My curiosity about them had faded. I removed my cloak from my satchel, spread it out, and sat.

If our farm weren’t so out of the way, we’d have learned the apprenticeship rules had changed and I would still be home. I’d probably have stayed on Lahnt forever.

Word might reach Mother and Father in a few months or a few years. When they found out, they would be wild with worry.

I hadn’t enough money for passage back, nor did I want to return. I would send word as soon as I was settled. No matter what, I would still be a mansioner.

Perhaps a mansioner master or mistress would take me as a fifteen-year apprentice. No one but me would give free labor for fifteen years. Who could say no?

My mood improved. Curiosity returned, and I watched the people on deck. The rowers rested their oars when the cog master’s attention was elsewhere. The oddly clothed mother and daughter were squabbling. The goodwife had recovered from her nausea and joined her husband. I liked best to watch the two of them. Sometimes she leaned into his shoulder, and he encircled her with his arm. Her expression showed peace, eagerness, and patience combined. If I were ever to play a wife, I would remember this goodwife’s face.

Night came. I curled up, hugged my satchel close, and wished desperately for home. But why wish? I mansioned myself there, under my woolen blanket in my pallet bed on a floor that didn’t roll, with Albin only a few feet away and Mother and Father in their sleeping loft over my head. Yes, that was their bed groaning, not the mast.

Soon I was asleep. In the morning I felt myself a seasoned mariner.

At intervals the animal owner walked his beasts around the deck. Come with Dess, he’d say in his sweet voice. In Two Castles Dess will buy you fine hay, feed you fine grass. How happy you will be.

I decided that he and the goodwife were the most worthy passengers on the cog.

Master Dess’s heavy basket turned out to contain kittens. He’d reach in for one at a time, stroke it from head to tail, and speak softly to it. Early in the afternoon of the second day, when even the gentle breeze died away, the cog master let Master Dess release them all.

The seven kittens, each striped black and white, burst out to chase one another between legs, around the mast, up and down the deck. A kitten played with the end of a coil of rope, batting it to and fro. The tiniest one climbed the rigging to the top of the mast and perched there for half an hour, lord of the sea. My heart rose into my throat to see it, so tiny and so high.

On its way down, it lost its balance and hung upside down. Frantically I looked around for something to help it with—a pole, anything. No one else was watching, except Master Dess and the goodwife, whose hands were pressed to her chest.

An oar might reach the kitten. I rushed toward the rowers just as the kitten scrambled upright and minced down the mast with a satisfied air. I returned to my cloak. Soon after, Master Dess collected that kitten and its mates.

When they were all in their basket, the goodwife came to me, bearing a small package wrapped in rough hemp. I jumped up.

May I sit with you?

I made room for her and she sat, tucking her legs under her. She placed the package in her lap.

What a pleasure to have her company!

May I know your name, dear?

I could think of no harm in telling her. Lodie. I mean, Elodie.

And I am Goodwife Celeste. My goodman is Twah.

Pleased to meet you. I rummaged in my satchel. One must show hospitality to a visitor, even a visitor to a cloak on the deck of a cog.

She was saying, You and I both feared for that brave kitten. She paused, then added, Have you heard of the cats of Two Castles?

I shook my head, while drawing bread and cheese and a pear out of my satchel. With the little knife from my purse, I cut her chunks of the bread and cheese and half the pear.

Thank you. She tasted. Excellent goat cheese. She unwrapped her own package.

Cats in Two Castles? I said to remind her.

The townspeople believe cats protect them from the ogre. There are many.

Many cats or ogres? How could a cat save anyone from an ogre?

She laughed. Cats. Her package held bread and cheese, too, and a handful of radishes.

We traded slices and chunks, observing custom, according to the saying, Share well, fare well. Share ill, fare ill.

Goodwife Celeste’s cheese wasn’t as tasty as mine, but the bread was softer, baker’s bread. I wondered where my future meals would come from, once my food and my single copper ran out.

Goodwife Celeste returned to telling me about cats. You know that ogres shift shape sometimes?

Yes.

Cats know they do, too. The cats sense that an ogre can become a fox or a wolf, but they’re not afraid.

Our cat at home, Belliss, who weighed less than a pail of milk, feared nothing.

They’re aware that an ogre can also turn into a mouse. She finished eating. More? She held out her food.

No, thank you. I offered her more of mine, too, and she said no.

As I wrapped my food and she wrapped hers, her sleeve slid back. A bracelet of twine circled her left wrist. Were twine bracelets the fashion in Two Castles? She probably wouldn’t have minded if I’d asked, but I didn’t want to reveal my ignorance.

Can an ogre shift into any kind of animal? I said. A spider or an elephant?

I believe so.

Can an ogre shift into a human?

Her eyebrows went up. I doubt it. She returned to the subject of cats. "A cat will stare at an ogre and wish him—will him—to become a mouse. They say one cat isn’t enough, but several yearning at him, and the ogre can’t resist."

I pitied the ogre. Is that true?

"Many believe it. What’s more, people train their cats. They don’t train them to try to make an ogre become a mouse. It is in the cats’ nature to do that, and the ogre must cooperate by giving in. But folks train cats to perform

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  • (4/5)
    Elodie arrives in a new town, penniless but determined to land on her feet. She catches the eye of the resident dragon and becomes IT's apprentice and helps solve the mystery of who wants to kill the town ogre. Elodie is particularly appealing because she never lets fear get in the way of what she wants to accomplish.
  • (5/5)
    My Thoughts: Once again Gail Carson Levine has created a masterpiece! This is an amazing story! The characters are fantastic and the story is clever and intriguing. Elodie is a wonderful heroine. Meenore is incredible. Count Jonty Um is more human than most, especially for a shape-shifting ogre. The King is awful (but he's supposed to be). This is a story of courage, friendship, misconception, misdirection, and the value of goodness and honesty. My favorite thing about this story is that it shows that every once in awhile when life takes an unexpected turn and you end up somewhere you didn't think you wanted to be, what you find there is home.
  • (2/5)
    My only prior experience with Gail Carson Levine was Ella Enchanted, which, honestly, I did not like. I had seen the movie first and thought it was better (if not necessarily good). Still, I wanted to give Levine another chance because I know so many people who adore her books. Plus, I love fairy tales and she does tons of those.

    A Tale of Two Castles fits into that mold; it is a revisionist, postmodern telling of Puss in the Boots. The ogre who can change into any animal is there, as is the miller's son who inherited no property and uses his cat to make money dishonestly. However, the good guys in the fairy tale are the bad guys here, and vice versa. The ogre is vulnerable to cats, peculiarly so. Apparently, cats wish so hard for him to become a mouse that he cannot help doing so. I think that's ridiculous, because if it works for cats, a whole bunch of people, if they could agree, ought to be able to wish him into a particular form as well.

    Another thing that annoyed me about this story was its repetitiveness. There were certain words and concepts that Levine kept using, so much so that it rather felt like some sort of lesson intended to teach children the meaning of terms like 'whited sepulchre.' A quirk of her fantasy world was that dragons were meant to be genderless, at least so far as humans are allowed to know, so they are to be called IT. Not It or it, IT. Ugh! The dragon's laugh also irritated me: 'enh enh enh.'

    The dragon was still, perhaps, a better character than Elodie. She does not seem to have been very well conceived, as some of her traits are remarkably inconsistent. She begins as the starry-eyed arrival, a stupid farm girl, with no skill for anything but acting. She is trusting of people who, from my point of view, are obviously hiding something and mistrusting of those who only want to help her. The only scenes where I liked her at all were those where she mansioned (especially when she acted out Thisbe with an apple as her Pyramus).

    The moment that would have made me throw the book across the room, if I weren't reading it as an e-book on my computer, was when suddenly Elodie, country bumpkin, knew everything about poisons ever: "I sniffed my bowl. The scent was faint but detectable: eastern wasp powder...The poison acted in an hour or two, caused chills, fever, tremors, a tight throat, death" (190). Really? There was no attempt at an explanation for why Elodie would ever know this.

    Also awkward was Elodie's relationship with the ogre. She says that she loves him, but I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a friend love or a they're going to get married someday love. I also don't know how that would work and I have no idea how old he is. So, I was mostly just creeped out by the possibility.

    A Tale of Two Castles had a lot of possibility, but was very poorly executed, with uneven characters, use of diction that felt like a vocabulary lesson, and unclear resolution.
  • (4/5)
    Fun story, but not as good as some of her earlier books.
  • (5/5)
    A Tale of Two Castles: This book is about a 12 year old girl named Ehlodie. Ehlodie leaves her home, and family to travel to the land of Lepai. She comes wanting to become a mansioner ( actress) Things don't go as planned, and Ehlodie ends up alone, and with no work. But then a dragon named Meenore offers her work. Accepting Elohdie finds herself deep in a mystery. Adventure/Fantasy I really liked this book. I loved the story line it was full of adventure and mystery. And each of the characters were unique and different. This book is about a mystery. Someone wants the ogre Count Junty Um dead, but who? The one thing I would say that I disliked the most of this book was that it was long. Sometimes it just seemed too long, and took awhile to finish. Still if it wasn't then alot of good parts would have to be left out. I reccomend this book to anyone who loves adventure, fantasy, and mystery.
  • (5/5)
    Elodie left home for Two Castles to become a weavers apprentice - or so her family thought. She wanted to be a mansioner (actor) instead. Elodie finds out, only after she has left home, that there are no free apprenticeships anymore and the story follows her as she tries to figure out what do in a foreign place with no family.

    On her way we meet an assortment of interesting characters. Goodwife Celeste and her goodman Twah, who cannot help her while she is in Two Castles. Master Dess, who has a fondness for animals. Master Thiel, a cat trainer, whose cats hates Count Jonty Um, the ogre in the land who lives in a castle. Meenore the dragon, who loves to induce and deduce as well as the king and princess who lives in the other castle in Two Castles.

    There is thieving, acting, cultural differences, dragons, ogres, glutton kings, fickle princesses all in the middle of a mystery. Someone is trying to hurt Count Jonty Um, and through a series of events (whether unfortunate the reader will have to figure out themselves) Elodie is left trying to figure out who the culprit is.

    This story is a quick read, and I would recommend it to any parent who might want to read with their child. Gail Carson Levine describes her world in detail and there are times in which I felt as though I was right there with Elodie, walking through the streets, looking at the stalls, observing. The characters are lovable, I especially loved Meenore and Princess Renn, the way they were written, it felt as though I could almost see them, each with their different mannerisms, through the pages.

    The ending - though somewhat easy to figure out - was still delightful and fun. It’s a lovely fairy tale for anyone, young or old.

    [arc via Net Galley]
  • (2/5)
    I enjoy Gail Carson Levine's books, but this one was just boring. The story just crawled, and more time was spent trying to get me to visualize this world instead of focusing on the the plot or characters. I know Levine is capable of so much more, so I'm a little puzzled as to why this book was so disappointing.
  • (4/5)
    A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine is about Elodie making her mark in the world. She leaves her farming village to cross the sea to Two Castles where she hopes to apprentice to become a mansioner (actress). Unfortunately, the apprenticeship rules have changed and she doesn't have the money to return home.Elodie, who hates being called Lodie, quickly finds her bad luck getting worse. Like September in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, she ends up finding a very unusual mentor, in the form of a dragon, Meenore.Dragons in this world are too mysterious for one to presume ITs gender. They are always referred to as IT or in the case of a mentor and student relationship, as masteress. The dragon's ambiguous gender and how it plays against traditional gender roles was an interesting aside to the book.But things really take shape when Elodie is entrusted by the dragon to keep an eye on Jonty Um, the lord and Ogre of Two Castles. There is a threat against his life that takes the classic Puss in Boots tale and turns it on its head (in a far more clever way than Shrek 2 did).The friendship between Jonty Um and Meenore and their interest in Elodie as a student and friend is what makes A Tale of Two Castles something special.The only detractor to this well crafted tale is the Princess's numerous oaths. She comes off sounding like she was possessed by Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicholson. As much as j'adore Georgia and her unique take on the English language, it doesn't working coming out of the mouth of an otherwise refined princess of the realm.
  • (5/5)
    I will start by stating how much I love Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine’s first novel. I read a few of her other novels, but that was before high school. I remember being less-than-impressed with the subsequent novels, but I think that may be directly related to Ella Enchanted being one of my favorite books from middle school.I thought one of the keys to the awesomeness of Ella Enchanted was that it was written in a very mature style, but was still accessible to late-elementary and middle school readers. This book gets very close to that same style. It is complex enough to be entertaining to older readers, while being straightforward enough for younger readers. Plus, this book has another interesting stylistic twist– the humor and world-building is similar to Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons, another of my favorite books when I was younger.This book uses the themes of unreliability and logic with an impeccable flair. We start the book with Elodie moving to Two Castles with her mother’s advice to not trust strangers echoing in her head. Her paranoia dissipates as she meets people and makes new friends, but it’s still present. Once the reader starts to trust too, Levine twists the plot in a way that surprised me. Logic is introduced fairly early on. Mastress Meenore, the dragon of Two Castles, is an expert at using deductive and inductive reasoning, and Elodie begins to pick it up as well. By the end of the story, Elodie’s logic is one of her two greatest strengths, with the other being her acting skills. I try not to throw around the term “strong heroine” lightly, but Elodie has earned that title in my opinion.Rating: 5 stars– It’s not Ella Enchanted, but as that’s one of my 5+ star books of all time, I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. On it’s own, the book stands out for having an awesome heroine and a surprising plot.
  • (4/5)
    Whether or not you've read Gail Carson Levine before, you are still probably familiar with her work. Levine is probably most known for being the author of "Ella Enchanted", which is, of course, a cute movie starring Anne Hathaway.If you enjoyed "Ella Enchanted" (the book or the movie), you'll enjoy "A Tale of Two Castles."Young Elodie is sent from her home and across the sea to Two Castles, where her parents hope she'll train to be a weaver, but Elodie hopes to become an actress. When she arrives, however, her luck goes south almost right away.Her money is stolen by a cat and she isn't accepted into the actor's guild. But when the dragon Masteress Leenor offers Elodie a job as an assistant, Elodie finds herself headfirst on a dangerous mission inside an ogre's castle.Even though the ogre has a heart of gold, his ugly appearance has someone wanting him dead, and it's up to Elodie to find out who. Then there is the constant danger of the whited sepulcher --- someone beautiful who has a heart filled with evil.With dragons, ogres, thieving cats, and wide array different characters, "A Tale of Two Castles" shows young readers not to judge people based on appearances alone.Even though Elodie is 12 years old, she reads much older, and it's very easy to forget that she's so young. As much as I loved Elodie, I loved the dragon so much more. Leenor is witty, but with a cheeky sense of humor. The dragon teaches Elodie to use deduction and common sense to solve riddles and problems.Older readers may discover the villian right away, but it doesn't distract from the overall story. I think readers of all ages will enjoy this cute and fun read. Four stars.
  • (4/5)
    A wonderfully imaginative book jam packed full of charm. Gail Carson Levine's crafted a fun, exciting MG book that's entertaining for all ages but doesn't talk down to its intended age group. If you're part of the generation that was brought up on Ella Enchanted, The Princess Bride and The Goonies, you'll definitely have a lot of fun with this book. Elodie is a fun and surprisingly charismatic narrator who I think a lot of kids will enjoy reading about and the world Levine has created has something for everyone: ogres, dragons, cat thieves, actresses, mystery, humour, wit and a whole lot of charm.

    I'll probably write a more detailed review when I'm not swamped under with exam work. It's a little predictable but the journey is so much fun that you won't care too much. It's definitely a fun little book I think a lot of kids will enjoy, and definitely a few bigger kids too.
  • (3/5)
    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 NetGalley.com 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 her writing style and me just don't get along.
  • (2/5)
    Were I younger--say about ten or twelve years old--I think I would have adored this book. However, it lacks the polish I've seen in Gail Carson Levine's earlier work, particularly Ella Enchanted and The Two Princesses of Bamarre. In particular, I had a hard time following event causation (things happened for no discernible reason, and often were not explained at all), many of the descriptions seemed aimed at showing off the world-building/culture rather than furthering the story, and the characterisation of the side characters seemed based largely on quirks in their speech (repeated words or phrases, particular sounds, etc). The net result, for me, was an overall inability to connect with the story in any meaningful way. Instead of being immersed in the story, I was removed from the action as I read.
  • (5/5)
    With apologies to Charles Dickens…I’ve had a good stretch lately, where I’ve been reading at a ferocious pace. But I suddenly came to a grinding halt a few days ago. Nothing I was reading was inspiring me to keep turning pages. At times like that, a trick that often perks me up is to read a young adult book and I lose myself in pure story. That’s what I did, and it worked like a charm.Actually, I didn’t lose myself in A Tale of Two Castles right away. It took a while because at the start of the novel Gail Carson Levine is working mightily on the world building. The story opens with a goodbye. Twelve-year-old Elodie is saying goodbye to her parents, her home, and everything she’s ever known. She’s leaving her island and the farm and sailing off to the city of Two Castles which features—you guessed it—two castles. It is time for her to become apprenticed. “Mother and father’s instructions were to apprentice myself to a weaver, but I would not. Mansioner. I mouthed the word into the wind, the word that held my future. Mansioner.”Oh, I’m sorry; you don’t know what a mansioner is? I didn’t either. In the fairy-tale world that Carson Levine has created that’s the word for actor. A ship is a “cog.” You might wear a “kirtle” and exclaim, “Lambs and calves!” And you might run into a dragon or an ogre—but not if you can help it. In fact, Elodie’s father gave her this parting advice, “Stay clear of the crafty dragons and the shape-shifting ogres. Don’t befriend them!” Of course, a dragon and an ogre are indeed two of the very first beings she meets in Two Castles, but not before all her money is stolen by a cat and she’s insulted by a human. Scared, hungry, and alone, Elodie is in fairly dire straights. Her dream of becoming a mansioner appears to be ending before it has even started. So, when the dragon Meenore offers her a position as ITs (for Mastress Meenore alone knows ITs gender) assistant, what choice does Elodie have but follow IT to ITs lair?So begins a relations ship based on “deduction, induction, and common sense,” in which each learns from the other. Mastress Meenore has many trades including food service, heating, finder of lost objects, and unraveler of mysteries. So it is that the ogre, Count Jonty Um, comes to Meenore seeking help finding a lost dog. But it turns out that that is merely the beginning of his troubles. The ogre is in danger, and so Elodie becomes Meenore’s eyes and ears in his castle as they work to unravel the larger mystery.Carson Levine’s story is as magical as it is well-written. Her characters are colorful and endearing. I am a fortunate 42-year-old woman, that I can still be a child. Books like this are time portals for me. I was delighted with this story from start to finish and was sad to see it end. Happily, the end of this novel is the start of a new adventure, one that I shall look forward to reading.
  • (3/5)
    Just finished this one and was highly disappointed. I love Ella Enchanted so much and reread it often. I was expecting something similar. I kept waiting for this story to get better but it never did. It just seemed to be a series of random events rather than a plot. I was less than captivated. I am about to start another of Gail Carson Levine's books and I am hoping that this one was just a fluke and that most of her writing is as good as Ella Enchanted.
  • (3/5)
    Gail Carson Levine is one of THE authors fairy tale readers turn to and list as a Master Writer. In fact, the only children’s book on my Top Five Favorites list is Ella Enchanted. Granted, I’m sure a lot of that is the nostalgia talking, but there it remains. When I heard that Levine had a new middle-grade novel coming out, I leapt to read it and saved it for the final Fairy Tale Fortnight Stop. While the novel wasn’t the best of the fourteen I’ve read, it was adorable and took me back to my fairy tale roots. I would have loved this novel when I was younger!While A Tale of Two Cities may not be the most profound fairy tale novel, it’s utterly charming. Elodie is a plucky heroine full of spunk. After leaving home to become an apprentice in Two Castles, her only copper is stolen from her and she’s left with no money at all. Rather than wallow, however, she sets off to become a mansioner (actress), but when she’s refused as an apprentice, she winds up working for a dragon named Meenore. Most of the villagers are afraid of the dragon—and even more petrified when it comes to the ogre, Count Jonty Um, living in one of the city’s two castles. Not our Elodie, however. After an initial burst of fear (and who could blame her), she realizes that these “monsters” are kind souls who aren’t given enough credit. Yes, there is a hidden message in this novel: It’s what’s on the inside that counts—and Meenore and Count Jonty Um have hearts of gold. Levine initially based the story off the legend of Puss in Boots, which, if you recall, has Puss heading off to the castle to challenge the ogre to shape-shift. Count Jonty Um can also shape-shift, and Two Castles is full of cats that would like nothing more than to see him turn into a mouse. When this horrible occurrence happens, Elodie finds herself with a full-blown mystery on her hands. Who is trying to get rid of County Jonty Um, and why would anyone poison the king of the second castle in Two Castles? As Meenore’s apprentice, she’s expected to learn “Deduction, induction, and common sense.” Can the two discover the truth behind what’s going on before it’s too late?Mixing a mystery with a fantasy in such a way was a brave move on Levine’s part, and a break from her normal fare. She does so with ease, however, creating an engaging mystery that will leave readers looking at every character through new eyes as they try to figure out “whodunit.” There’s a lot of room for future adventures with Meenore and Elodie, which would be welcome stories in the fantasy genre. In addition to the mystery, one of my favorite things was the way Levine created Meenore. I haven’t read many novels with dragons, but the ones I have are all vastly different from one another. One of my favorite lines from the novel came when Elodie saw Meenore’s wings for the first time: “The wing was a mosaic of flat triangles, each tinted a different hue, no color exactly the same. Black lines of sinew held the triangles together, as lead holds the glass in a stained-glass window. The tinted skin, in every shade of pink, blue yellow, and violet, was gossamer thin. I saw raindrops bead on the other side” (pg 45). In addition, Levine uses Meenore’s smoke when describing the dragon’s mood, from dull scales when annoyed to bright pink smoke and red scales when angry, to gray smoke for sadness and white spirals of smoke when happy. Seeing such detail describe a dragon’s mood was a visual treat that I always looked forward to.
  • (4/5)
    Elodie leaves her home and family to travel across the water to become an apprentice. Unfortunately, her family lives too far away to have gotten the bad news--it is no longer possible to become an apprentice without paying your prospective master in coin. Elodie doesn't have enough money but is determined that she will manage to become an apprentice mansioner (an actor--not what her parents had in mind, as they wanted her to become a weaver) anyway. Almost as soon as she is back on solid ground, Elodie finds herself in the middle of intrigue. Her one copper coin is stolen by one of the many cats found in the city of Two Castles. Was it trained to do so, or did it get lucky? Before she knows it, Elodie finds herself hired as assistant to the city dragon, Meenore. Still unsure as to whether or not she can trust her new master, Elodie is assigned a new job--being the dragon's eyes and ears in the castle of ogre Count Jonty Um, who is the apparent victim of thieves, poachers, and possibly in danger of much more. Who is trying to hurt the ogre, and why? Who, if anyone, can Elodie trust? Is there any hope for her dream of becoming a mansioner, or is it time for her to find a new dream?

    Gail Carson Levine has written a new tale of magic and mystery with A Tale of Two Castles. Readers are quickly drawn into a new fantastical world where many things and people are not quite what they seem. The ending leaves hope that there could be a sequel--or two, or three--for us to continue solving mysteries along with Elodie and her two new friends, watching as the plucky heroine continues to grow in her newfound talents and abilities. This novel is geared toward middle-grade readers, especially those who enjoy fantasy and mystery stories. Anyone who loved Ella Enchanted (the book, not the movie--ugh!) should enjoy this story of a determined heroine who makes the best of what life throws at her. (Review based on reading of a NetGalley advanced digital copy.)
  • (4/5)
    Small town girl goes off to the big city where she meets all the characters her mother warned her about. Mystery, adventure, drama, poverty and cruelty are all woven into this beautifully written fairy tale. Oh, and don't forget the dragon!
  • (4/5)
    I grew up on a healthy diet of Little House on the Prairie, Dear America, and Gail Carson Levine. I have loved her books since I first read The Two Princesses of Bamarre (which continues to be my favorite), and Ella Enchanted (a very close second). I was worried that when I read this new book of hers, I would either love it too much, or not like it enough. That's the problem with being successful in life; people come to expect certain things from you. I wasn't sure how this one would hold up to her other stories.I shouldn't have worried.With A Tale of Two Castles, Gail Carson Levine has created a world where children can choose their destiny by choosing to apprentice, cats are kept as deterrents of ogres, and dragons are great detectives when problems present themselves. The world is interesting, and the characters are charming and strong. I really like the main character, Elodie. She seemed a lot older than twelve to me, but I don't see that as an issue. Her unique personality and her love of mansioning (playacting) gave the book quite a lot of its charm.The main theme of this book seemed to be overcoming stereotypes, or superstition. Levine does a good job of getting the message across through Elodie's observations of the citizens of Two Castles, and their reactions to the "monsters" that live among them. The citizens go from tolerant, to interested, to scared, to angry, and then to...well, you'll have to read it for that one. ;)This story is similar in feel to Levine's previous books, but it is definitely its own tale. The words themselves have more depth to them, giving the reader more to ponder as the story goes on. This story has more of a "super sleuth" feel to it, but it was very interesting to see how Elodie came her conclusions. I did figure out who the villain was pretty early in the story (I think other people will, too), but I didn't mind and was still interested to see how the story would work itself out.Overall, a highly enjoyable read!See the original review on my blog, The Reading FeverDisclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
  • (4/5)
    I love this story. With a saucy, headstrong young woman, a shape shifting ogre, and a many talented dragon it would be tough not to find something to enjoy in this book.
  • (4/5)
    The Little BookwormElodie is a spirited girl who only wants to become a mansioner, an actor, but is thwarted in her ambitions by her lack of money. So she becomes the assistant to Meenore, a dragon skilled in logic and deduction. When the ogre hires the dragon to find out who is behind a strange turn of events at his castle, Meenore sends Elodie to be ITs eyes and ears. And Elodie learns about using her mansioning and logic talents for other purposes. Gail Carson Levine can tell a good tale. While some of her other books are retellings of fairy tales (Ella Enchanted), this one has a few aspects (Puss in Boots) but is a wholly original book. And it is a very cute book. I loved all the fairy tale touches and the characters were delightful. I thought the solution to the mystery was easy, but that is because there tends to be a pattern in Levine's fairy tale books that gave it away. I do wish there was more of the dragon and the ogre because I loved both characters, but I'm wondering if they are going to be more books with Elodie and her friends.
  • (5/5)
    It was a great book!i loved it!
  • (5/5)
    Good read. The skills of inducing and deducing and use of common sense is lacking in most people today. More people should read this and be encouraged to think for themselves.