Castle of Shadows by Ellen Renner


Goodreads: Castle of Shadows
Series: Castle of Shadows #1
Source: Library
Published: 2010


Five years ago, the Queen of Quale disappeared and the king went mad.  Now eleven-year-old Princess Charlotte (Charlie to her friends) lives alone in the attic, half-starved by the housekeeper.  But then she finds a clue to the queen’s disappearance.  Suddenly she’s embroiled in a game of political intrigue, trying to guess whether she should trust the mysterious Prime Minister or the revolutionaries who claim they have no aims against the monarchy.


“Never despise a pawn. If it succeeds in crossing the board safely, it becomes a queen – the most powerful piece in the game.”

Castle of Shadows is a dark book (no pun intended).  It begins with Princess Charlotte (Charlie) living alone in the castle attic, being half-starved by the housekeeper, and forbidden from roaming most of the castle.  She has no friends, no lessons, not even a dress fit to wear.  Meanwhile, her father the king stays in his room building castles out of cards.  And her mother the queen has disappeared, apparently content to allow her daughter to be abused and her kingdom to fall into ruin.

There are a lot of mysteries that remain unsolved.  One cannot, for instance, help but wonder where all the courtiers have gone or why the servants willingly starve and abuse a child along with the housekeeper.  There is ostensibly a Parliament, but they allow the country to be run by a Prime Minister while the king degenerates.  One might assume that the king used to have loyal friends and supporters.  Or that the law would require that the princess ascend the throne with a regent after the ruling monarch is incapacitated.  Or that the queen would have allies and friends who could help her return.  But evidently the populace is content to allow the Prime Minister to take charge while they blame everything on a failing monarchy and forget to ask what has come of a child no one has seen in five years.

Still, the book is fast-paced enough that readers will likely be willing to put their pondering aside.  Once Charlie finds an old letter written by the queen, she goes to the Prime Minister for help.  But then she learns the Prime Minister wants to sell her country to a neighboring empire (even though he’s in charge of it and would be demoting himself?).  She is no longer sure whom she can trust(but seems to decide against the Prime Minister primarily because he is scary and has treated her family ill–we never do find out what his motives are or what he was actually doing.  Adventures ensue and the danger becomes increasingly high.  Indeed, we have (spoilers ahead!) multiple people trying to shoot or otherwise kill two children, a plot to poison the king, another plot to make a death look like suicide, and several deaths throughout the book.  Is this for children?  Some parents might wonder.

I thought the book originally a bit slow, but the pace picks up in the middle and never flags.  I did find the book surprisingly dark, even though I am advocate of not shielding children from danger.  However, I can’t deny that the book is ultimately a gripping read.   I don’t think I will read the sequel (which focuses on another character), but I did enjoy this story.

4 stars

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