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A Tale of Two Castles

Gail Carson Levine is a great spinner of tales of magic.  I will say that I have not liked her subsequent novels nearly as much as I love Ella Enchanted, but when I read them I always enjoy them.  Her latest novel, A Tale of Two Castles, I enjoyed quite a bit.  It still comes in a distant second to Ella but it was an enjoyable read.  Any enthusiast of girl and dragon companion books will have a great deal of fun with this one.
Summary (from Amazon):
Newly arrived in the town of Two Castles, Elodie unexpectedly becomes the assistant to a brilliant dragon named Meenore, and together they solve mysteries. Their most important case concerns the town’s shape-shifting ogre, Count Jonty Um: 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 and evil come in all shapes and sizes.

Elodie is an interesting heroine.  Her parents want her to be weaver's apprentice.  She wants to be a Mansioner (actress).  Since they are poor and unable to see her once she sets off to seek her fortune, she figures what they don't know won't hurt them.  Elodie discovers once her journey to the town of Two Castles begins that apprentices are no longer accepted without a fee.  Alone and with no means to support herself she is extremely lucky that the dragon Meenore notices her plight and takes her on as an assistant.  For a 12 year old Elodie is very mature but that fits in with the setting of the novel where that is considered old enough to venture into life on your own.  At the same time she has a lot to learn, about people, dragons, and ogres in particular.  Her character is not as developed as it could be and I felt like I didn't really know her any better at the end than at the beginning.

The dragon Meenore was delightful and my favorite part of the book.  IT (as a dragon is called because only IT knows ITs gender) has a wicked sense of humor I enjoyed.  IT is a wonderful mentor for Elodie because IT both nurtures and challenges her, just as a 12  year old needs.

This story is, at its heart, a mystery.  The story unfolds slowly and there are places where it drags just a bit.  There is a lot of set up at the beginning to give the reader background into the town, world, and characters.  At times I was thinking, "Get on with it already." Once the action actually begins it is fast paced and exciting. 

Unlike most of Levine's other fantasy novels there is no romantic element in this book at all.  This is simply a story about a dragon and her girl who solve a crime.  Any young readers out there who enjoy this kind of story will embrace it.  I'm sure my daughter is going to love it.

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