Ellen Renner’s ‘Castle of Shadows’ is just OK

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Castle of Shadows,” by Ellen Renner and Wilson Swain, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, March 20, 2012, Hardcover, $15.99 (ages 9 and up)

Princess Charlie has felt very alone for a quite some time. Five years ago, the now-11-year-old princess’ mother mysteriously disappeared and her father went mad. Since then, Charlie has had a very un-princesslike existence, running wild and rarely supervised. The country of Quale is in a troubled state, and it’s no wonder, with the King spending the majority of his time building houses with cards and the young princess banished to an attic room.

The status quo is about to get thrown on its head, though, when Charlie overhears rumors of a coup to remove her father from his position. Charlie starts exploring the castle, particularly he mother’s old laboratory, with new interest. And when Charlie discovers a half-written letter in her mother’s own hand, she’s sure that the Queen is alive. A web of secrets surrounds Charlie, and it will take all her cunning ways to make it out alive.

At first glance “Castle of Shadows” looks like a thrilling adventure/mystery for young readers, but there’s a lot going on and all the pieces don’t necessarily connect to make a cohesive whole. “Castle of Shadows” feels in many ways similar to another book about a young princess who must save her family. Unfortunately author Ellen Renner’s way-too-conveniently plotted book doesn’t stack up to Jessica Day George’s “Tuesday’s at the Castle,” which has better pacing and more interesting characters.

I wanted to like “Castle of Shadows,” but something about it just felt off. It seemed odd to me that an entire kingdom would completely ignore the daughter of a beloved Queen and some of the twists occurring later in the book felt out of place with the framework built earlier on. It’s too bad, because author Ellen Renner does show promise. Charlie is a likeable character and Ellen does a fairly good job of setting scenes. However, if you are looking for a book with a strong, young, mystery-solving heroine, I’d go with “Tuesday’s at the Castle” — it’s a much more satisfying read.

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About Author

Jessica Harrison is the main reviewer behind Cracking the Cover. Prior to creating Cracking the Cover, Jessica worked as the in-house book critic for the Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City. Jessica also worked as a copy editor and general features writer for the paper. Following that, Jessica spent two years with an international company as a social media specialist. She is currently a freelance writer/editor. She is passionate about reading and giving people the tools to make informed decisions in their own book choices.

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