There is a distinct risk that I miss worthwhile books completely, because I’m not on mailing list terms with the publisher. This debut novel by Ellen Renner is one of those books. The title might make me think of Enid Blyton, but if it had been anything like that I doubt that Mary Hoffman would have recommended that I read it. And she did, so I felt in safe hands.
Castle of Shadows is the first of four books set in an alternate 19th century England. I think it’s England, anyway. Charlie, aka Her Royal Highness, Charlotte Augusta Joanna Hortense, Princess of Quale, is 11 and roams the castle where she lives with her father the King. Unfortunately he is vague and confused after the Queen disappeared five years earlier, and the kingdom is falling apart. Charlie never gets enough to eat and she is dressed in dirty rags.
Mrs O’Dair, their scary housekeeper, runs the castle as she likes, and Charlie is aware that the people are in uproar, outside the thick walls of her home. Almost by accident, Charlie comes to realise she needs to find out why her mother left and what the Prime Minister is really up to. Her only help comes from Tobias, the gardener’s boy, and Moleglass, the former butler.
This novel provides quite a good lesson in politics, something which is often missing in children’s books. It’s interesting to see how hard it is to decide whether the Prime Minister is good or bad, or just somewhere in-between, as so many politicians seem to be. Should you fear the Resistance, or help them? And does anyone want the King dead, and if so, who?
Nice Victorian style adventure in the spirit of Joan Aiken. The initial problem is resolved in book one, but with a few more planned there is obviously plenty that can happen. The teaser pages included at the end of this one, show Tobias – picker-of-locks – centre stage. I assume there will be plenty for Her Royal Highness – the daredevil climber – to do, too.