Title: The Castle of Tangled Magic (review copy)
Author: Sophie Anderson
Genre: Children’s Fiction, Fantasy
Blurb from Goodreads
Olia lives with her parents in an old crumbling castle, filled with hidden turrets and secret doorways. When she follows a mysterious cat to one of the castle’s roof domes, she finds herself stepping through one such doorway into a magical land filled with wonders… But everything is not quite as it seems: the land is under threat from a scheming magician, Chernmor, and the magic is fading away.
With the help of an enchanted band of new friends, can Olia find a way to save both her own home, and the land of forbidden magic?
“Magic is everywhere you believe it to be.”
I’ve been wanting to read a book by Sophie Anderson for some time now and when this came up for request on NetGalley I leapt at the opportunity to request it.
“The Castle of Tangled Magic” is a wonderfully, richly-layered tale that incorporates characters from Slavic folklore to create a very enjoyable middle grade fantasy. While I personally can’t attest to the calibre of the research behind the depictions of Slavic folklore in this instance, it has made me more than eager to learn more about these mythologies and stories.
This book follows the story of young Olia who lives with her parents, grandmother, and baby sister in an old, tumbling down castle called Castle Mila. One night a terrible storm ravages through the castle and soon after Olia is tasked with journeying to a magical land which is home to hundreds of spirits who were imprisoned there by Olia’s royal ancestor, the Princess Ludmilla. Something strange is happening in this Land of Forbidden Magic. It is being ripped apart at the seams and the magic is seeping back into Castle Mila which in turn is destroying it.
Together, with a host of magical spirits, Olia needs to vanquish the magician who is causing the two worlds to collide … but quests aren’t always as straightforward as they first appear, and Olia has to rely on her heart and instincts to save everyone.
This is exactly the kind of middle grade story that I love. First and foremost it’s an adventure story which features the main character going on a quest. I always love adventure quests and this particular one is brilliant!
In Olia, the book has an incredibly likeable main character. I loved how she was a little bit cheeky, had a super curious nature, but also had this tremendous love and respect for her family. Her love for her baby sister Rosa was particularly touching. I think this book would actually be brilliant for young readers who have infant siblings that they might feel a little unsure about as it shows the positive aspects of a sibling relationship with an age gap of 10+ years (I can’t recall if Olia’s exact age was given in the novel but in my mind I assumed her to be somewhere around 11 or 12 years old.) Olia was definitely a hugely relatable character. She felt very authentic in that she had doubts and insecurities, but challenged herself to try to be the best person she could possibly be. She also had the kindest heart; throughout the book there are many instances of her showing unwavering compassion and caring for those who are different to her. I think this is a beautiful way of teaching younger [and older!] readers of this novel about respecting and tolerating difference by always trying to do good.
The cast of enchanted spirits that Olia met in the land of forbidden magic were a fantastically colourful bunch. I loved the wide variety of characters from water nymphs to giants with no bodies to walking talking trees, to houses with chicken legs [which is a nod to an earlier novel written by Anderson I believe]. This is the kind of book that you can just let your imagination run wild as a reader as you get completely caught up in this magical world which is aided by the stunning illustrations provided in the novel, created by Saara Soderlund.
One of my favourite side characters had to be Feliks who was the protector spirit, a domovoi, of Castle Mila. I loved his protective nature towards Olia but also enjoyed how he taught her how to believe in herself and her abilities. He was the perfect mentor figure. ..it doesn’t hurt that he apparently looks fox-like and foxes are one of my favourite animals! I also really loved Olia’s grandmother, Babusya. The love she had for Olia just jumped off the pages. And she was such a fascinating and wise woman full of magical stories, which made me think about my own dearly beloved grandmother who is no longer with us.
Overall, this was a really engaging story. The prose was the perfect blend of simplicity and illustrative detail. It was so easy feel transported as a reader to the world that Anderson had created for this book as the world building was exemplary. It was just so carefully thought out and brilliantly described. Also, the creation of atmosphere and ambience for whatever scene was occurring at any given time was spot on!
In addition, I loved the pacing of the plot; I was never bored by the story and was always eager to keep moving ahead with Olia as she attempted to navigate the strangeness of the Land of Forbidden Magic and to solve the mystery of what was happening to both worlds. Her quest was always exciting and I loved how she met so many different types of spirits along the way. It made for a truly vibrant cast of characters.
I would definitely recommend this to all lovers of middle grade novels no matter your age.
*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
Publishing 1st October 2020, Usborne Publishing