The Castle Behind Thorns
By Merrie Haskell
Published 2014 by Katherine Tegen Books
Sand doesn't know how he got into the sundered castle, but he knows he has to find a way out. It only becomes more true when a girl appears - and all signs point to the corpse that Sand had set to rights. Does Sand have some sort of magic? And can the two find their way out of the castle behinds the thorns?
Yay - another Cybils book to discuss! I actually had a digital galley of this one last year before its release. I read about 100 pages before it expired. The story hadn't really grabbed me, so I didn't bother picking it back up. Of course, when it was named a Cybils finalist, I had to pick it back up. I started from the beginning again.
This time, the story gripped me a bit more. Maybe it was simply the timing the first time around, but this time, I was completely engaged with Sand and Perrotte and their desire to solve the castle's mystery. I adored Sand and his methodical work of mending the castle. I appreciated that he struggled with the desire to just give up, wondering what the point could possibly be. I'm equally glad that he never actually gave up, that instead he began to plan for his survival. I loved his concern for Merlin and Perrotte and their survival, even though his relationship with Perrotte is fraught at first.
I liked the magic here, as well. I liked that it was revealed slowly and always with a slight sense of disbelief. I liked that all the pieces didn't fit together until just the right moment. I liked that this extended to the world outside of the castle as well - bits and pieces revealed slowly over the novel's course. The information was paced out perfectly. I was surprised to find myself loving the extreme subtlety of this as a fairy tale retelling - I mean, if you know your tales, it's obvious from the title. But this book doesn't just take that story and retell it from a new angle - it changes the story, and I think the book is stronger for that choice. I have to believe that all these things I loved about this book are due to Haskell's talent as a writer - at times, her language was beautiful. She captured sentiments so perfectly. I'm eager to try another of her books.
It gets maybe a little heavy-handed with the message at the end, but it's an important one, and an extremely difficult lesson to learn. I also found the bits of real history slightly jarring at times - since the setting was revealed slowly, this information sometimes felt a bit out of place. Similarly, I'm not sure how I feel about the saints. I like them and at the same time, I find them off-putting. I wonder how middle-grade readers will feel about them.
Overall, I very much enjoyed this one and will be happy to recommend it to the many young fantasy fans I meet at my library.