The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell

May 26, 2014 Reviews 2 ★★★★½

The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie HaskellThe Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell
Published: May 27th 2014 by HarperCollins
Format: ARC, 336 pages
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Source: Publisher
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4.5 Stars

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.

This beautifully written story is perfect for readers just entering their teens, or for those who want to relive the metamorphosis from child to something else. I think The Castle Behind Thorns will ensnare all who pick it up, and can’t really recommend it enough.

The Castle Behind Thorns is a magical tale of a boy, a princess, and a castle overridden by thorns. I don’t know whether to call it a retelling of Sleeping Beauty or not. It certainly shares the basic elements, but like all great stories it transcends the original and becomes something wholly other, something unique and special in its own right.

I think that this story will be accessible to readers of all ages because of a number of factors: the tendency of the thirteen-year-old characters to be more mature that you’d expect, the nature of the lessons they learn, which many adults struggle to understand, and the ethereal quality of the setting and writing itself.

Sand wakes up in a fireplace with no memory of how he got there, and no clue about where he is. Further investigation leads him to conclude the impossible: he’s somehow inside the mysterious castle that looms over his village, a castle thought inaccessible because of the deadly thorns that surround it. I love Sand’s practicality and pragmatism. This is a boy who is wise beyond his years, and I loved exploring the castle with him. Exploration eventually gives way to hunger, and I marvelled at how clever and skilled he was in being able to eke out a living in a long-abandoned and broken place.

And just when loneliness was about to take its toll, he is blessed with companions! A hunting falcon that he names Merlin, and the heir to the castle, Perrotte, whip brighten up the gloomy castle and set Sand off on a series of adventures as they uncover its secrets and the dreadful past that haunts it. Perrotte was initially difficult to like, with her airs and sense of superiority over Sand, but she very quickly realised her mistake and everyone was able to move on. That in itself was an important lesson for the kids: rank and superiority rarely mean anything when both parties are equally starved.

Despite featuring a falcon named Merlin, the magic in this book is quite subtle and fascinating. This isn’t a story of a boy with a magical tool that can magically fix all his problems, but a story of two people who have to learn how to mend: mend their surroundings so that the broken things can be used again; mend their relationship so that they can overcome their differences; mend their emotions from the inside so that can learn forgiveness, humility, honesty, and trust.

The Castle Behind Thorns is gorgeously written, and everything from Sand’s quiet determination to Perrotte’s fear and anxiety, and the Sundered Castle’s doom and dark history are vividly brought to live by the prose. You cannot help but fall in love with a book that begins with “Sand woke, curled in the ashes of a great fireplace.”

The Castle Behind Thorns. I loved it. You should read it.

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