Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Reading Level: Middle Grade
Pages: 336 (eARC)
A magical adventure set in an enchanted castle that is sure to appeal to fans of Gail Carson Levine, Karen Cushman, and Shannon Hale
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.
With gorgeous language and breathtaking magic, Merrie Haskell's The Castle Behind Thorns tells of the power of memory and story, forgiveness and strength, and the true gifts of craft and imagination.
I've never read a novel by Merrie Haskell before, but after reading this one I am determined to check out her other tales. A very loose retelling of Sleeping Beauty, this story focuses on the power of friendship and imagination and emphasizes how forgiveness is important to continue moving forward in life. I adored this fairytale and I think readers of all ages will enjoy it despite the fact that it is a middle grade level book. Really, the only thing that makes this book for younger readers is the lack of romance and the fact that our main characters are thirteen years old.
The very beginning of this book was slightly confusing. Sand literally wakes up in the huge fireplace of the sundered castle with no understanding of how he got there. Once inside the castle behind thorns, he could no longer get out because of the bloodthirsty thorns that surrounded the building. If you threw anything at them or went near them, they would prick you, poison you, and attempt to envelop you. Really, the beginning of the story was very interesting and necessary because we had to explore the castle and understand the unique world the story took place in. But what made the first 15% of the book such a slog for me was the fact that Sand was utterly alone. There was barely any dialogue because Sand was alone and had nobody to talk to. It was all description--necessary description--but it had no interruptions whatsoever. What little dialogue there was belonged to a memory sequence, Sand talking to himself and then scolding himself for sort of going insane, or his conversations with the stuffed falcon that he randomly found while searching the castle. He decided to name her Merlin since Sand needed someone to accompany him in his new castle which he was the "king" of. The second the 15% mark passed it is as if the book took on a new life because everything began to pick up and Perotte was properly introduced.
Perrotte is the famous murdered heir of the castle. She passed long before the sundering, so it is absolutely shocking when Sand finds her in the castle. At first, she's very haughty and frustrating. She's privileged, but Sand is not a peasant that is going to bow down to her easily. This is his castle, his discovery, and his current home because he was alone so long. Observing Perrotte's slow shift in character was perhaps my favorite part of the book. While Sand knew who he was and was comfortable in that fact, she changed drastically and began to understand her past and what her world is truly like. She has a desire to learn and is determined to do so. She specifically loves studying the stars, which I found to be very adorable. For the first time in her life instead of having an evil step mother named Jannet watching over her every move and taking away what is dear to her, she has a friend in Sand. Her story was really quite lovely.
And then there's Sand. Sand's struggle has to do with the fact that his heart is telling him to follow in the family trade of blacksmithing. It is what he loves and how he learns to cope in his new home. However, his father wants him to attend university because he's so smart. It's this ongoing fight between the two that inadvertently led to his awakening in the sundered castle, and it's a huge point of conclusion near the end of the story when all is revealed.
The family ties and twist and turns of events are definitely shocking. People relate to each other in unimaginable ways. While it was initially hard to figure out the hierarchy of characters and royalty in this story, it all became clear in the end. Since Perrotte's castle belongs to a land desperately trying to show that they are separate from France, there's a lot of underlying political plot lines, just as there is twisted familial plot lines that very easily coincide with the Sleeping Beauty tale. All and all, this book is full of surprises that I did not expect. The synopsis above only scratches the surface of this story because it holds so much surprising depth.
I would recommend this to lovers of fairytales as well as those who love the unraveling of several convoluted mysteries. This is also a good book for clean readers because there is no cussing or romance. As a romance lover myself, I thought this would diminish the tale. But the journey towards friendship in this one is so powerful that I find myself completely satisfied with what the future will hold for both Sand and Perrotte. Definitely a tale that will undoubtedly put a smile on your face if you give it the chance to do so.
FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive any form of compensation in exchange for my honest review.