Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Recently, it feels like I have read a number of very good books that have nonetheless been a little heavy, and another bunch of books that have been frustrating. It's been a while since I read something that was just thoroughly delightful in almost every way. So I am delighted to report that as a young adult fantasy novel (or perhaps even younger), Castle Hangnail was so much fun to read from beginning to end.

The story was entertaining, the characters positively delightful, the central emotional core strong - pretty much everything I'd want out of light YA. Give this one to your daughters and sons (and in particular your daughters.)

What's it about? Well, Castle Hangnail has been without a master or mistress for a long time, ever since the last Sorceress suffered from dementia. It's in the market for a new Master or Mistress - a Vampire perhaps, or a Mad Scientist, or Evil Sorceress. Or a Wicked Witch, that would do just fine. They've sent out invitations, and the minions are on pins and needles as to whether they'll attract someone before their magical castle gets decommissioned. (Well, Pins, the small burlap man who is a really excellent tailor, is probably always on pins and needles, but now everyone else is too.)

So when Molly shows up with someone named Eudaimonia's invitation and explains that Molly is short for Eudaimonia, the minions accept her, even though the main minion, a man made up of other people's parts, put together by a former Master of Castle Hangnail, is a bit suspicious. Then Molly helpfully gives him a name, (Majordomo), and he's not less suspicious, but he likes her.

They all like her, as a matter of fact. She's very young, she's overweight, and a little too cheerful, but then the minions actually like the people in the village down the way, and aren't really looking forward to a truly Evil master coming and smiting everyone. Now, someone Wicked who smites them that deserves it, that would be okay.

Molly is learning magic as fast as she can, and comes quickly to love the castle and its minions, which also include George, an enchanted suit of armour, Cook and Angus, a minotaur and her son,  Serafina, a steam spirit who lives in a kettle, and Pins' goldfish, who is a bit of a hypochondriac, but a good soul.

There are tasks to complete before the castle is safe from being decommissioned, and a boiler to fix, even though they don't have the money. Molly befriends the bats and the moles, and starts staking out her place in the town by threatening a farmer who is abusive to his animals with a dragon, and opposing a land developer who would really like to buy her castle, tear it down, and put up a suburb.

Then Eudaimonia the real Evil Sorceress shows up, and the minions have to decide where their loyalties lie, and Molly has to decide whether or not to fight for her castle.

Nothing here is probably revolutionary, but it's all just so much fun. The characters are lovable right away, and you want them to succeed in fending off evil and encroaching developments from the castle. 

If you're looking for a book for a young person in your life, or even just a light break from other doom and gloom, I really highly recommend Castle Hangnail. It was a delightful surprise in my summer reading.

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