Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon

I love Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath books (smart and funny and endearing as heck!), and so when I was very excited to curl up with Castle Hangnail (Dial, April 2015) her first foray into middle grade fantasy.  And it was good.  As I read, I thought "Eva Ibbotson-esque" and felt rather gratified to read in the author's note that Ursula Vernon is in fact an Ibbotson fan!  And I am feeling rather hopeful that she will write more middle grade books of a similar feel, and fill/expand that particular in middle grade fantasy left by the passing of Ibbotson, and also of Diana Wynne Jones (though I think there really can only be one DWJ!).

But in any event.  Castle Hangnail, decrepit and almost bankrupt, is in need of a new master; if one doesn't show up, its minions will be dispersed, and their livelihoods lost, and the castle stripped of its magic by Those In Control.  The head minion is therefore determined to make the best of the would-be-master who knocks on its forbidding door--a young girl named Molly, who says she is a witch.   Not quite the Dark Master that had been expected, but maybe she will do...

And Molly does in fact magical ability, though no natural tendancies to the more unpleasant spells that past Masters of Castle Hangnail had appreciated, and thanks to Molly's diligence, things go pretty well...except that Molly arrived at the castle under false pretences.  She took someone else's invitation.  And that someone else, an older girl with a decidedly dark bent to her personality, shows up to boot Molly out! 

The minions are distressed--they liked Molly, and the new girl is a nasty piece of work, even for a dark Master.  Molly is distressed--she has come to care for the minions and the castle, and also she doesn't want to go home to ordinary life.   So a heroic stand is made...and all works out well. 

It's an excellent sort of book to give to an eight or nine year old who enjoys stories of kids doing magic.  Nothing to awfully scary, but plenty tense toward the end.  Lots of fun tidbits of magic, and the minions (including a minotaur mother and son) are delightful.   That being said, somewhat older readers will appreciate the nuances of Molly's situation more, as she struggles to keep a place she's gotten by deception.  Can the minions trust her, when she's become their Master through lies?  (As a parent, of course, there are things that are too hard to believe--I'd be really suspicious if my kids told me they'd made their own camp plans.  But Molly has a tad more gumption, and magic, than my own dear boys...)   The strong reader will find it interesting enough to hold their attention, the emergent strong reader will find it friendly enough to keep theirs.

In short, I enjoyed it lots and lots, and in particular, I'd recommend it to fans of Ibbotson's Ogre of Oglefort, which is my favorite of her books.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I love Ibbotson! I will definitely have to try Ursula Vernon. Love the premise of this one.


Free Blog Counter

Button styles