Chooseday Tuesday: Gail Carson Levine “A Tale of Two Castles”

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, published in 2011


A handsome cat trainer, black-and-white cats, thieves on four legs and two, suspicious townsfolk, a greedy king, a giddy princess, a shape-shifting ogre, a brilliant dragon. Which is the villainous whited sepulcher?

Elodie journeys to the town of Two Castles to become a mansioner—an actress—but luck is against her. She is saved from starvation by the dragon Meenore, who sends her on a dangerous mission inside the ogre’s castle. There, disguised as a kitchen maid at an ogre’s feast, she finds herself cast in the role of a lifetime and pitted against a foe intent on murder.


For my last Chooseday, reader votes determined my next book would be a fantasy, and I could think of no better than Gail Carson Levine. She got me started on fantasy with Ella Enchanted (which has a movie adaptation that I love, but the book is even better). The Two Princesses of Bamarre makes me cry every time I read it and I can never get over the themes and writing in Fairest. What you need to know, right here and now, is that GCL is my fantasy QUEEN. But A Tale of Two Castles is perhaps the pauper in her writing kingdom.

This book is a re-read for me, and it fell a little flat during my first read (maybe three years ago?). I could have done this review on any of her books that I already proclaimed my absolute faves BUT for some reason wanted to return to AToTC to see if my opinion changed. (SPOILER: it didn’t.) But please oh please, do not let anything I say here deter you from any of her other books. Because there are several reasons AToTC is not like her previous writing.

A Tale of Two Castles is aimed at younger readers than Levine’s usual books. Levine’s niche is definitely YA, more specifically 12 to 16. You might have spooky creatures but nothing that will haunt your worst nightmares; there may be deaths, but never anything near graphic. To *very simply* sum up her style, the MC will go on an adventure and experience a new world that challenges her previous lifestyle/worldview. Clearly, great for teens who are similarly going through life changes (minus the dragons and fairies and ogres). Buuuuut as I said, AToTC is pitched a little lower: the main character is twelve and very clearly acts and speaks like a twelve year old. She can be impetuous and rash. The writing style is similarly simplified for a pre-teen audience. There are a lot of short, to-the-point sentences and ideas are repeated (in case you didn’t get it the first time).

I knew that AToTC was pitched for lower ages, which is why it took me a long time to buy it in the first place AND partly why I don’t blame GCL for why I dislike this book. I mean, it’s clearly not aimed at me. Sure, I can love and enjoy YA (that sort of is/sort of isn’t aimed at me, considering I’m now twenty-two) but that is certainly different from pre-teen lit. YA will have complex sentence structure (should have!), morally ambiguous characters, intertwining plot. ATOTC had a little of that … but in the sense that a toe was being dipped in the water. As an an older reader, I felt like I was reading half a book, but I can imagine that this plotline was more than enough for younger readers.

But alright. Let me review the actual book now instead of explaining why I think what I think. As the book description says, Elodie heads to the town of Two Castles to become a actress. She finds out pretty fast that her dream isn’t possible because she has no money. The theme of poverty runs throughout the book, not investigated enough for my tastes but explored well for a young reader book. For example, on her first day in town, Elodie is starving with only three coppers to her name. She trails after a woman selling marzipan delicacies and imagines how wonderful they would taste. She also longs for a cap, which she realizes all the women in Two Castles wear, and almost spends her last copper buying one.

Elodie is as much a frustrating main character as she is realistic. I had to pause sometimes to remind myself She’s only twelve!!! She doesn’t know better! Sometimes Elodie would make the dumbest mistakes, like persistently trust **CHARACTER NAME** because they were attractive. But she is only twelve, so I knew I had to cut her slack. She also made a lot of really smart decisions, and part of plot relied on her learning to “induce and deduce and use common sense” from her new masteress, the dragon Meenore. Part of Elodie’s teachings included not jumping to conclusions, which was a smart lesson to include in a young reader book.

Meenore the dragon confused me? The book characterizes dragons as very secretive of their gender, so all people must refer to dragons as “IT.” Now, I may just be thinking too hard about all of this. But why would dragons be secretive about their gender? As a result, Elodie spends a lot of the book trying to guess at Meenore’s gender … which is an uncomfortable situation (for me to read) at best. It’s very unlikely that Levine was making a broader statement about gender identity, but this just did not translate well. I didn’t see the overall point (particularly since GCL usually tries to make overall points with her writing) and just ended up confused. If you have thoughts, please share.

Another thing that confused me (and again, isn’t the end of the world) is the ogre, Count Jonty Um. In this book, ogres can shape-shift. I know when you read a book, the author has creative control. If I was to write a book where lips are green and teeth are orange, I can do it. As a reader, you accept this or you don’t when you pick up the book. For me, an ogre shape-shifting was just an odd concept. (See, I’m nitpicking and I’m sorry.) But why would an ogre shape-shift? This is just a pointless complaint, but sometimes mythology conflicts for me and I have trouble accepting things. A shape-shifting ogre seemed so odd to me.

In terms of plot, the book is fairly straightforwards. Elodie ends up in the employ of Meenore, and rapidly ends up trying to find out who is trying to harm the ogre, Count Jonty Um. I did find the investigation a little all over the place, so if you want to guess who did it, good luck with that. The way Elodie “gathers clues” is a bit confusing and when the culprits are revealed it’s kind of thrown in all at once and wrapped up with a bow. BUT the book kept good pacing and each character tied into the plot well. The ending, though rapid, made sense. So I accept the mini rollercoaster I ended up on.

Do I suggest this book? Probably not, to be honest. If you’re older than fifteen I don’t think you’ll enjoy the writing style or narrative voice. But if you’re younger, then definitely check out this book and every other GCL book is s-t-e-l-l-a-r. Three crowns because this book did everything it was supposed to, just ended up in the hands of the wrong age group.


Next Chooseday Tuesday, I’m thinking I’ll have you vote AGAIN on a genre instead of a particular book. But if you have any specific authors/books, leave it *along with* your vote and if I have access to that book I might try and review! As usual, drop your vote below!





14 thoughts on “Chooseday Tuesday: Gail Carson Levine “A Tale of Two Castles”

  1. Lol I’m kind of dying. I thought for a while you were like “um” don’t know what to say about this ogre fellow. Also really strange about the dragon and gender thing. Definitely would make me uncomfortable and definitely needs more clarity. Ummmmmm I feel like I had more thoughts but I’m done.

    Nice banner. I saw your salty comment on my post and I would have you knowwwwww that I was lazy and didn’t feel like going back and changing all the ones I had already done with the other graphic. It’s on every one I’m doing from now on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. UM, I really don’t know what to say about this ogre fellow. I *liked* his shape-shifting features, it was COOL, but at the same time it’s like two huge mythology facts were smashed together and my brain couldn’t wrap itself around that. The dragon gender thing was just such confuzzlement for me! I didn’t know what I should be getting from it. Was it just a funky trait? IDK.

      Heh. Heh heh heh. Good Mandy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s why I usually read books where the MC is close to my own age or older; I can’t stand it when they make immature choices! Sure, they’re kids, but still… anyway, great review, Sha! This time I’ll vote for mystery~

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This book is loosely based on, Puss in Boots. In that fairy tale, there’s an ogre that can shape-shift (a fact that is pretty important to the plan put into action by Puss). So, that’s the origin of the shape-shifting Count Jonty Um. Although, I like how GCL takes that character trait and turns it on its head.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohh, well, something I didn’t know! That certainly ties into the role of cats in this story. I should have known GCL had sources. For all the fairy tales I’ve read, I’ve not read a single Puss in Boots one. I met Puss in Boots in Shrek and that … oh. Shrek is an ogre. Well this is interesting. I am honestly just making these connections. But complete agreement on how Levine turns traits on their head. It’s one of my favourite things about her writing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love the story of Puss in Boots. If you haven’t read it, I’d definitely recommend finding a copy. I think it’s a Charles Perrault (French) fairy tale (as opposed to a fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers).

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Terrific review! Ella Enchanted is the only GCL book I’ve read, but I’m hoping to get into more of her books, so I’m glad you recommend them. Oh, and I’ve recently requested an ARC of Ogre Enchanted on Edelweiss (it’s a sequel, oh my freaking gosh) so I’m so hyped right now for more of GCL!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WHAT WHAT WHAT??? Sorry for the all caps but this is the first I hear about this book and I’m so hyped. First of all, the cover looks AMAZING. Second of all, the plot is making my heart drop out my chest. I’ll be checking out that review of yours as soon as it’s posted!!

      And certainly check out Two Princesses and Fairest. I also love her book Ever, I don’t know why it slipped my mind.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. YES YES YES there’s a sequel! I’m surprised there hasn’t already been more of an uproar over it, but ah well. 😉 And thank you, I really needed some GCL recommendations, so I’ll definitely add that to my list! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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