Early Book Review: Castle of Shadows by Ellen Renner

Castle of Shadows by Ellen Renner is a children's book for ages nine through the early teens. It is scheduled for release on March 20 2012. In Castle of Shadows, the kingdom of Quale is in serious trouble. There are rumors and plots on the streets about revolution. The problem begins five years before the action of the book begins, when the queen vanishes. Some think that the king has killed her, but everyone close to the the castle knows that it is not true. The queen has run away, leaving everyone she cares about behind. The Prime Minister is running the country, and the housekeeper is running the castle. Charlie, or Charlotte, is the princess. The housekeeper mistreats her, the King is lost in a haze of grief, and there are agendas at work. When Charlie discovers a letter her mother wrote before she left, Charlie is desperate for answers. She sets out on a quest with the gardener and her occasional adversary Tobias to find out the truth about why her mother left, and where she might have gone. Soon the danger has doubled and Charlie does not know who she can trust, and where she should turn. Can she manage to save her father, the kingdom, and herself?

I am struggling with my review of Castle of Shadows, there were many elements I loved, and still it felt that something was lacking. So lets start with the good, and then I will try to figure out what bothered me about the book. I liked the character of Charlie, she is resourceful and persistent. She was a little out of control, but her attitude and perceptions fit with a child in her position. I really like Tobias's character and would have like to see even more of him in the book. I will say that I fully expected another twist of who could be trusted by the end of the book, but it did not happen. However, the final scene with the king was unexpected and the perfect choice for the plot. The introduction of political intrigue into Charlie's life worked, and flowed well. I genuinely enjoyed large portions of the story, and found it to be an interesting and entertaining read.

Perhaps my problem with Castle of Shadows lies with the missing queen. As a mother, I cannot even contemplate leaving behind a child, especially if I distrusted the intent of the adults that would surround her. Maybe my questioning of the queen is part of the brilliance of the book, leaving me to wonder if Charlie would be safe in her own mother's arms. My disconnect with the book could also be because of the sheer evil of the villains of the book. I think my real issue is that the book has so much promise. The ideas and story could have been fantastic, and I was left with the vague sort of 'that's it?' running through my mind. There were definitely moments of pure brilliance in the book, unfortunately there were also moments that had me putting it aside to do the household chores that needed doing.

I am glad that I read Castle of Shadows, but I do not think I will be following it up with other works from the author quite yet. I think that Renner has the potential to be a wonderful writer. However, I do not think that the potential has been fully realized yet. I do think that there are many readers in the target age range that would enjoy this book, but there are some heavy themes and violence to be found. While the reading aspects would be easy handled by an eight or nine year old, because of the violence and general mistreatment of people in the book I would lean towards offering it to readers around thirteen years old or more.
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