Castle of Shadows (by Ellen Renner)

15 10 2011

Mad kings, cruel housekeepers, political intrigue, defiant princess, courageous sidekick… Ellen Renner’s Castle of Shadows has it all to be a favorite with kids who will grow up to love reading Harry Potter. Renner’s book is marketed at children, but a book this fast-paced, entertaining and well-written should win over a lot of grown-up hearts too.

After the disappearance of her mother, 11-year-old Charlie leads a very un-princessy life at Quale Castle, while her father, the King, has no other joy in life than his playing cards. Instead of ruling his country, in a very ‘Madness of King George’ type of way he spends his days hanging upside down building castles with playing cards. The result is a country in decline, with hard times for castle and country inhabitants. The Kingdom of Quale is definitely a made-up country, complete with political intrigue, almost wars, (pseudo-)scientific discoveries, and an almost forgotten Queen, but there are definitely hints here and there that point towards Renner’s deep love for Victorian times and the good old-fashioned Victorian gothic novel. Castle of Shadows however, is not boring or dreary gothic. Instead, after Charlie finds a clue about her mother’s whereabouts, and enlists her friend Toby in the search for the long-lost Queen, we get an action-packed adventure that is nevertheless set in a gothic-type castle, with gothic type characters, but with such a positive vibe to it, that this will appeal to adventure-seekers, as well as historical novel buffs.

Also, it’s great to read a novel that is definitely marketed to a younger audience, but which never takes a childish or superior stance. Ellen Renner has a healthy ambition with this book: write a good adventure story, create believable characters that sometimes totally bug each other. This is not your typical romantic princess & the pauper stuff that all too many Disney movies are made of. Sparks definitely fly up in Castle of Shadows, and it’s only fitting that this book would get a sequel with City of Thieves.

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