Middle Grade Castle Fantasies: Wednesday in the Tower + The Castle Behind Thorns

Here are two books I would have loved as a kid. They would have been an appreciated change from the unicorn fantasy books I devoured.

Wednesdays in the Tower (Castle Glower #2) by Jessica Day George

Wednesdays in the Tower coverStrange things are afoot in Castle Glower: new rooms, corridors, and even stables keep arriving, even when they aren’t needed. Celie’s brother Bran, the new Royal Wizard, has his hands full cataloguing an entire storeroom full of exotic and highly dangerous weapons, while Celie has her hands full . . . raising the creature that hatches from a giant egg she finds! Will they be able to find out what’s making the Castle behave this way in time?

  • A fun follow up to the first volume, which I had read exactly two years prior (a good series for Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon!).
  • I loved the inclusion of a magical creature. I haven’t read about many traditional fantasy creatures in middle grade, apart from dragons.
  • Unlike the first book, the plot cracks open at the end, leaving plenty of room for further story growth in the next volume. I like seeing Celie’s universe expand. I get the impression that this wasn’t a planned series, but perhaps came about due to the success of the first book. This second book introduces questions about the castle’s origins and the lands beyond what Celie knows.
  • The Bottom Line: A must read for fans of the first book, Tuesdays at the Castle

The Castle Behind the Thorns by Merrie Haskell

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 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. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending? Or have the saints who once guarded this place returned?

When Sand finds the castle’s lost heir, Perrotte, they begin to untwine the dark secrets that caused the destruction. 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 regain their freedom.

  • The Castle Behind the Thorns has a unique premise in that it features only two characters for most of the story. A slow beginning for the first 50 pages, as it’s just Sand trapped by himself in the castle, but I liked reading about how he explored his new situation.
  • I could have done without hints of romance *insert eye roll here*. I read MG so I don’t have to deal with that sort of thing. (My complaint is disproportionate to what’s actually shown in the story…it is really just a small thing).
  • This is only the second book by Haskell that I’ve read, so maybe I would have expected this, but I didn’t realize that the story would be set in our world. There are French words and names, and references to Paris. There’s a lot of stuff that I called ‘the practicalities of history’ – stuff like Latin, crucifixes, chapels, features of a castle, etc. At times, it felt a bit technical, with all the historical details and realistic considerations, but I would have loved that as a kid – grounding fantasy in my world.

    Sand threw open the man-size night portal to find himself in a dark tunnel pierced by arrow slits and larger openings that he’d heard called “murder holes.” In theory, if an enemy entered the castle, he could be trapped between the inner and outer gates and simply killed by raining death down through these openings. Sand shivered, thinking how glad he was to be alone in the castle – alone, he knew for sure that he couldn’t be trapped in this tunnel.  He reached the outer gate and opened its night portal – and stopped. The portcullis was down, but he could raise a portcullis. What he could not raise was the nasty snarl of thorns beyond the portcullis gate. (13)

  • I found the idea of magic routed in faith and saints rather than purely magic for its own sake a new idea that I hadn’t encountered in MG fantasy.
  • In addition to the world building, I also really liked Sand. He seems to be a genuinely good kid, willing to keep his promise even though it isn’t what he wants. I like stories that cross generations, so I enjoyed watching the backstory of Sand’s father unfold.
  • The Bottom Line: A middle grade fantasy with some of the usual trappings, but with a plot that shakes things up.

Have you enjoyed any books, middle grade or not, featuring a castle? 

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