The Castle Behind the Thorns by Merrie Haskell is a middle grade fantasy where a boy named Sand wakes up trapped in a castle where literally everything (down to the bedsheets and individual pieces of straw in the stable) is broken (or ripped, or bent, or split in half). This castle is surrounded by a giant hedge of raspberry thorns that actively attack Sand when he tries to leave. Things get curiouser and curiouser as Sand starts to try to fix a few things and survive in this castle until he can find a way out. The Castle Behind the Thorns is a separate story from Haskell’s previous books, but in the same light and unique fantasy vein and with a few references to other stories thrown in :D.
Note: I received The Castle Behind the Thorns through Edelweiss for an honest review. Some things may have changed in the final version.
The Castle Behind the Thorns by Merrie Haskell
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on May 27th, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, MG
Page Length: 336 pages
How I got my copy: Edelweiss
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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.
- I absolutely loved the castle setting in The Castle Behind the Thorns. Sand knows of the legends about the castle, but the way that even the apples and bread loaves are split in half suggests that the townspeople don’t actually have any idea what happened to the castle. It becomes more and more clear that there is magic of some kind involved, which just leads Sand to discovering more interesting things about the world and the castle :D.
- Speaking of magic, Sand has mending magic! I love coming across new ideas for magic systems, and Sand’s is a pretty cool trick. I won’t give any of the more interesting events away, but while Sand doesn’t love his magic, I did ;-).
- Sand isn’t alone in the castle for long and it was awesome to see a friendship between a girl and boy that didn’t immediately jump to romance of any kind. Boys and girls can be just friends :D. This is something that I love about middle grade stories, ha. But seriously, they’re friendship goes through some ups and downs, and becomes all the stronger for it, which was awesome to read about.
- I’ve only read one other Haskell book, The Handbook for Dragon Slayers, but it is totally referenced in The Castle Behind the Thorns! There may have been more references that I missed, but even just the one was fun to see, since it makes it clear that these are stories from the same world, just different regions. I love it when authors start using independent books to build a richer world for the more obsessed fans, hehe.
- The ending of The Castle Behind the Thorns ended up feeling pretty anticlimactic. I won’t give anything away, but once I hit the end, I felt the need to shrug :(.
- There is a fair amount of magic thrown about in The Castle Behind the Thorns and only some of it is explained all that well. I can forgive not getting all the gory details of course, but it was more that the logic behind the magic that was explained didn’t really seem to flow all that well into the events that then took place.
- I was really excited during the first half of The Castle Behind the Thorns, but then the second half started to lag since we’ve figured out pretty much everything and it turns into general survival and eventually politics. Once I knew everything about the magic and setting, I got a bit bored unfortunately.
The Castle Behind the Thorns is a fun middle grade fantasy with a cool setting and magic system. I’m really excited to see Haskell building a world with independent books that subtly build off each other. If you’re a fan of Haskell’s writing or looking for a light and fresh middle grade, The Castle Behind the Thorns will probably be perfect for you.
Have you read this one? What did you think? Are you excited for it if you haven’t gotten to it yet?
The Castle Behind the Thorns by Merrie Haskell
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