Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Castle Behind Thorns - Merrie Haskell

The Castle Behind Thorns book cover
The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Source/Format: Edelweiss (Thanks, Harper Collins!) || e-galley
[I received this book for review from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. The stories all said the place was ruined by an earthquake, and Sand did not expect to find everything inside-from dishes to candles to apples-torn in half or slashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that prevents Sand from leaving. Why wasn't this in the stories?

To survive, Sand does what he knows best-he fires up the castle's forge to mend what he needs to live. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending, granted by the saints who once guarded this place?

Unexpectedly, Sand finds the lost heir, Perrotte, a girl who shares the castle's astonishing secrets and dark history. Putting together the pieces-of stone and iron, and of a broken life-is harder than Sand ever imagined, but it's the only way to gain their freedom, even with the help of the guardian saints. (from Goodreads)

I have a long list of things that will immediately make me want to check out a book. Fairytales are a big draw for me, and this is the main reason I wanted to read The Castle Behind Thorns. A middle grade retelling of Sleeping Beauty? Yes, yes, yes, please! It might not have hit my sweet spot, but this novel was a very strong retelling and pretty darn good.

What really worked, in my opinion, is the way Haskell incorporates elements from Sleeping Beauty. From our sleeping princess to the thorny hedge that surrounds the ruins of her castle, the inspiration here is clear. But in The Castle Behind Thorns, Haskell does put her own spin on things. I have to say, this is a great retelling in that sense. Haskell’s easy mastery of creating a tale that is “classic with a twist” really comes across well, and is the primary reason that I enjoyed it.

The story was clever, and it was also entertaining. But I did have two quibbles with The Castle Behind Thorns: pacing and characters. This is a book with a slow start, with very little action in the first few chapters. Because I’m stubborn, I powered through till it started getting interesting, but I really wish it didn’t have to be that way. I also wish that I could have really connected better with the characters in this one, especially since they gave off a delightful fairytale vibe.

All in all though, The Castle Behind Thorns is fun! I really did wind up enjoying it, especially with the unexpected creativity and twists. If you, like me, enjoy a good fairytale retelling and like middle grade, I’d consider this a pretty solid book to recommend to you.

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