Monday, June 30, 2014

The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell

The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell is an almost fairy tale retelling -- a thought-provoking work of fantasy in an historical setting.

A broken castle lies surrounded by a wall of fierce thorns. Nobody goes near it, nobody speaks of it. Every item in every room of the castle has been sundered, ripped it two by some unimaginable force. And within the castle lies a girl who is sleeping.

No. Within the castle lies the body of a girl who is dead.

Sand doesn't know how he came to be in the castle. He ran away from home, fell asleep by a roadside shrine, and woke up in the castle's kitchen fireplace. Nor does he know how to get out -- the thorns are just as fierce when approached from within. So, he starts setting things to rights, as much as he can. He patches up furniture, twists torn bedding into a rope for the well, collects scraps of metal near the smith's forge. He even ventures down into the castle crypt, where he straightens the body of a girl his own age, thrown onto the floor like a rag doll during the sundering (though fortunately still in one piece). Nothing grows in the castle grounds, but the food that was in the castle is well-preserved, simply dried out. Sand starts to get to the point where he can manage, though he doesn't relish the idea of spending his life in the castle. But then everything changes again: Perrote, the girl from the crypt, wakes up. She's neither a ghost or a zombie, but simply a girl Sand's age, who was dead for a while but has come back to life. Working together, Sand and Perrote mend many things in the castle, and forge the beginnings of a friendship as well -- but can they figure out how to break the curse and remove the thorns that imprison them?

As you can see, this is almost a Sleeping Beauty retelling, but not quite. And, just so you know, there is no kissing in this middle-grade novel, so that's not the solution to the mystery! Over the course of the narrative, Perrote's back-story is revealed, and readers get a slowly dawning sense of why she is alive again and why Sand is the one sent there to be with her. This makes for leisurely pacing -- this isn't the sort of book that drives you on to the conclusion. The setting and the characters make up for any shortcomings in plot and pacing, though. I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)


  1. I really liked this one too--I don't think I'd like every book to be as leisurely, but it was a nice change!

    1. Agreed! Have you read her other books?