Castle in the Mist - Pop Bop

pop bopReviewed by Pop Bop

five stars
5 stars
Puts the Magic and the Reality Into Middle Grade "Magical Realism"

Lots and lots of middle grade magic books out there. Lots of family dramas, especially involving missing, ill or absent parents, as well. But this is one of the best books I've read that blends the two into a story that is both magical in the old-fashioned "wonder" sense and yet topical as well.

On the magic side, we aren't talking wands or spells or anything involving a "magic system". We are talking about wonder, and dreamy boundaries that divide the real from the imagined, and wishes, and mists that obscure and illuminate. We're talking about did-that-happen? and I'm-sure-this-is-where-it-was. Gates and walls and hedges and rabbit holes and magical carousels all play a part. What you end up with is, (MILD SPOILER), Brigadoon meets Nesbit's "Magic City" and "Enchanted Castle", meets the original Mary Poppins, as written. (Mary Poppins, in the books, is a powerful and unpredictable elemental earth force, not a sweet nanny.)

This is classic stuff, handled beautifully. Rather than belabor her points, Ms. Ephron uses suggestion and brief bits of dialogue, and passing observations to just sketch in what's happening. We switch from mundane scenes, (breakfast, driving to town, gardening), to scenes of great imaginative power, (finding the gate, escaping the carousel, playing magical miniature golf in the mist). Characters are always reading into what's in other characters' eyes, and half of the action is suggested rather than described. Sprinkled among these rather pastoral bits of wonder, though, are action scenes, (flight, escape, imprisonment), of great suspense and energy. Again, very hard to pull off, but I encountered no bumps or out of tune scenes.

On the realism side, our two heroes worry about and are separated from their parents. Adults are kind and supportive, but there is an undercurrent of real helplessness and isolation. Our heroes are siblings, and their small conflicts and grand loyalties are on full display. I've rarely seen, or believed, expressions of affection and love among siblings in middle grade books, but this tale manages the difficult and old-fashioned task of showing the family ties that bind with great aplomb. And the small and large acts of heroism that each child displays feel authentic.

As a bonus, there are some very funny scenes and some truly witty dialogue.

So, this is a book with a fine story, a marvelous feel as a written work, and a fast pace that never drags out a point or overworks a scene. Both dreamy and sharp, it is a warm, magical and realistic find worth considering. (Please note that I found this book while browsing in our local library. I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)