Whenever Castle Glower became bored, it would grow a new room or two. It usually happened on Tuesdays, when King Glower was hearing petitions, so it was the duty of the guards at the front gates to tell petitioners the only two rules the Castle seemed to follow.
Rule One: The throne room was always to the east. No matter where you were in the Castle, if you kept heading east you would find the throne room eventually. The only trick to this was figuring out which way east was, especially if you found yourself in a windowless corridor. Or the dungeon.
This was the reason that most guests stuck with Rule Two: If you turned left three times and climbed through the next window, you’d end up in the kitchens, and one of the staff could lead you to the throne room or wherever you needed to go.
Author: Jessica Day George
Synopsis: When Princess Celie’s parents disappear on a journey, Celie and her brother Rolf and her sister Lilah turn to their magical Castle—which likes to change up its own layout—for aid from the wiles of evil Prince Khelsh, who visits from a neighboring country. Khelsh is determined to rule Castle Glower and the whole land of Sleyne, and he threatens Crown Prince Rolf’s life. Celie's only hope of thwarting Khelsh and saving her family is in her friendship with the Castle, which loves her as much as she loves it.
Notes: Middle-grade fiction doesn’t get much sweeter or more innocent than this tale of a sentient building and the child it dearly loves. Little Celie is eleven, bright—she’s making an atlas of the ever-changing Castle—and brave, which she proves again and again throughout the story.
As the heroine of a fantasy tale for very young readers just beginning on full-length books, Celie is surrounded by entertaining, larger-than-life characters: heroic and lovable young Rolf, awkwardly hilarious Lulath of Grath, flirtatious Pogue Parry, and sharp but motherly Lilah. They stand together against the unmitigatedly awful Prince Khelsh, regarding whom it must be said that it takes some imagination to understand why the Castle doesn’t just pitch him out a window onto his traitorous bum.
The Castle, of course, is a character in its own right, with a tendency to change things up on dull days, as well as to play favorites very obviously. Fortunately, it allies its every plinth and parapet with the good-hearted, and its favorite person in the world is the youngest princess. Without a word of dialogue, it certainly ranks as one of the most interesting characters in the book.
The relationship between Celie and her Castle is especially delightful. While it doesn’t spoil her, it watches over her like a large, mischievous, benevolent dog might. In return, she loves it and knows it by heart.
The tale stays engaging, though it occasionally stretches believability a little far; not things the young target audience will likely notice, however. Ms. Day George throws a bit of symbolism in, stuff that’s comparatively obvious if you know what you’re looking for, but probably a very good introduction for children who will someday remember the griffin and Celie’s self-sacrifice and recognize the meaning.
The ending respects the youth of its readers. I kept expecting a couple of young men to turn into suitors for one or the other of the girls, but those threads were left open to the future and the imagination, as well as to not being noticed at all. When the book closes, it’s with a tender, safe little flourish that is not only exactly right for the story, but beautiful.
Recommendation: Read it for a happy-go-lucky jaunt through childhood images of magic and wonder.