Sunday, April 26, 2015

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Castle Hangnail 
by Ursula Vernon

Published by: Dial Books for Young Reader, Penguin
Copyright: 2015 (April 21)
Format: hardback
Pages: 384

Genre: Children's Fantasy
Age Level: 8 - 12 | Grade Level: 3 - 7
Source: own book

From the cover 
When Molly shows up at Castle Hangnail's doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle's minions are suspicious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite ... polite. It's not exactly what they had in mind for wicked. But the castle desperately needs a Master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love.

Molly may not be as spectacularly cruel and devilishly demanding as the castle's previous Masters, but when she produces some rather impressive magic, the minions feel hopeful she'll be approved by the Board of Magic. They even start to like her. It turns out though, that Molly is hiding quite a few secrets, including one that could mean the end of Castle Hangnail.

This is actually the first time that I have even read the books description.  Ursula Vernon is one of the few (very few at this point) authors whose books I will simply buy as soon as I see her name. In this case, the book showed up in the mail (a pleasant surprise for a lousy week) - I had forgotten I had a standing order in for the next couple books that were coming out. 

So - Molly turns up at Castle Hangnail in answer to this advertisement (on the back cover of the book) ...

Dear Sir or Madam, 

   The minions of Castle Hangnail seek a new master to overtake all dark and evil duties and responsibilities. Magical abilities are absolutely required,* as is a knack for smiting, blighting, and general malevolent behavior. An intimidating appearance is a plus! 
   If interested, please send word via raven to the guardian of Castle Hangnail. 
      *except in the case of Mad Scientists 

    the Minions of Castle Hangnail 

Once she convinces the guardian of the castle that she is, indeed, a Wicked Witch, she is given a list of Tasks she must complete in order to be accepted as the Master of the Castle. 

This is a lovely little story about a young girl seeking a place to belong and be herself. She struggles with taking responsibility for adult sized tasks. There are echoes of Eva Ibbotson (whom the author thanks in the Acknowledgements) with the added benefit that appearance does not equal worth. (Sorry, that was one of the recurring patterns that I realized that I really disliked about Ibbotson's books - the bad people were ugly and the good people were pretty - you didn't even need to read the story to sort out who the bad guys were once you read their descriptions). 

Molly is "a plump girl with a round face, a stubborn chin, and frizzy brown hair." Totally unprepossessing for a Wicked Witch. However, she is a witch and while she might only be a bit wicked, she had a kind streak a mile wide and falls in love with the castle and all the minions. 

The Castle has been laboring along without a Master for so long, things are literally falling apart in places. It is going to take a concerted effort and lots of work to pull everything together.  Plus, there are those pesky secrets of Molly's. 

Simply sweet!  I really liked it.  It is not my favorite Vernon and doesn't have the sarcastic humor that makes the Dragonbreath books such fun to read and re-read. But that said, I can totally see myself as a young girl simply loving this book. I plan to start reading it at bedtime to my daughter to see what she thinks.  

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