The Ghosts in the Castle, by Zetta Elliott

The Ghosts in the Castle, by Zetta Elliott (2017), is the author's latest book giving black city kids a place in both fantasy and history.  It's the story of a Brooklyn girl, Zaria, who goes to London with her mother when her grandpa suffers a stroke.  Zaria is thrilled to be in England, and she's pleased that Winston, a cousin she's never met before, shares her love of fantasy.  When she and Winston visit Windsor Castle together, they find a fantasy adventure of their own when they meet two 19th century African ghosts (who were real people).

One of the ghosts is Prince Alemayehu of Abyssina (Ethiopia), and the other is a young woman named Sally (aka Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies) daughter of a chief in Nigeria.  Both were taken from Africa when they were children, and ended up living in England during the reign of Queen Victoria (I'd assumed they lived at Windsor Castle, but the author has clarified that this wasn't the case).  In a series of encounters with the ghosts, Zaria learns bits of their stories--both were taken to England as colonial possessions.  Alemayehu died when he was 18, and was buried at Windsor Castle.  Sally had a longer happier life, and can come and go between Windsor Castle and other places from her life, but Alemayehu is stuck, and cannot visit the one place he wants most to see again--his home in Africa.  With a bit of help from Sally, Zaria and Winston find a way to free Alemayehu's ghost.

It's good story for any young (nine or tenish, I'd say) fantasy reader who loves ghosts and mysteries and castles.  What makes it special is that Zetta Elliott is unapologetic about directly positioning both modern and historic characters of the African diaspora in a fantasy novel.  She raises issues of colonialism, both its past and its present reverberations (including Zaria's own family history), while keeping Zaria's particular story going at a nice pace, so that the message doesn't overwhelm the reading experience (in large part because Zaria is utterly relatable to any young Anglophile fantasy reader, and also in large part because it's a neat ghost story).

The result is a fascinating, moving story that not only adds diversity to the genre but makes for good reading.  It's just the right length for older elementary grade readers; if you are older than that, you might be left wanting more (which isn't a bad thing....)

There are discussion questions at the end; it would have been icing on the cake to have had more historical information about the two ghosts included in the backmatter as well, but if you go to the links above, you can see pictures of both Alemayhu and Sally and learn more about them.


  1. Hi, Charlotte! Thank you for this thoughtful review. As far as I know, neither child lived at Windsor Castle; Sarah visited the Royal Family there several times and Prince Alemayehu is buried there, but I believe he met the Queen at one of her other residences. It seems the children were "placed" with various families and presented to the Queen at her request...

    1. thanks for clarifying that; I changed it in the post.


Free Blog Counter

Button styles