The Castle in the Mist
Penguin, February, 2017 167 pgs.
Tess and her younger brother Max are sent to spend the summer with her aunt in a remote house in the British countryside. The children's mother is home fighting a life-threatening illness and Dad is on assignment as a journalist in the middle east. Everyday is much like the next (boring!) until Tess quite by accident stumbles upon a mysterious boy named William who lives in an equally mysterious castle with only kind servants for company. The house is only accessible through a magic key that fits a gate on an invisible wall. Tess returns with Max and the two children have wonderful adventures with their new friend, including riding on a magical carousal which grants wishes and a dinner party which ends in an unique game of miniature golf and an eclipse featuring both a blood and a blue moon all at the same time. With the amazing wonders of the castle comes dangers as well. William warns Tess upon first meeting to "Beware the Hawthorn Trees" and for good reason. Going beyond the Hawthorn Trees leads to a desolate nothingness with no apparent way out. When Max goes "beyond the Hawthorne Trees" it is up to Tess to save him using all the personal courage she can muster. What is the truth behind this magical castle? Who actually is William and how come Aunt Evie has never heard of him? These and other mysteries will be revealed in an ending that will satisfy the reader.
Adult author, Amy Ephron, pens her first book for children with The Castle in the Mist. In it she hopes to create a traditional fantasy along the lines of Half Magic or The Secret Garden. This story does feel like an old-fashioned fantasy set in England, yet staring modern American children to contemporize the tale. The setting of the British Moors and featuring the discovery of a lonely and rich boy who becomes a friend felt very Secret Garden to be sure. The magical carousal where the horses become alive felt very Mary Poppins, although the outcome of the adventure becomes decidedly more sinister. The book begins with a map. As a child when I opened up a book that started with a map I settled in, knowing that I was in for a rich read. A map generally signifies "smart kid fiction" and this will certainly be the audience. Readers who love magic and fairy tales, but aren't quite ready for Harry Potter, will find much to enjoy here. There is a mystery to solve withing the pages: the identity of William and what his backstory is. Readers will guess if he is a real boy or a ghost and Ephron reveals his true status and history. A happy ending all around is a bit unrealistic and comes about quite suddenly, but with today's children having so much of their security out of their own control, they will appreciate that all ends well. A magical and comforting adventure that will appeal to dreamers.