The Girl Who Kept the Castle by Ryan Graudin

The Girl Who Kept the Castle by Ryan Graudin

The Girl Who Kept the Castle by Ryan Graudin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an advance digital copy of this novel from the publisher, Quill Tree Books, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Girl Who Kept the Castle is the epitome of cozy fantasy, especially for middle grade to young adult readers. It feels like being dropped into a Studio Ghibli movie — in fact, one of the regions of the kingdom is called Ghibli. (And the capital city is Retnec, an anagram of center. Can you guess where on the map that city might reside?) There are lots of tiny nods to other classic fantasy stories, like the works of Tolkien and Diana Wynne Jones. But even outside of the fun little Easter eggs, this is a delightful book in its own right. (I stated above that it’s cozy fantasy, but it might be more fitting to call this cozy-adjacent. Because while the setting and storytelling feel very cozy, there are definite stakes to this tale.)

Our story begins with Wizard West waking up dead. Faye, the twelve year-old daughter of the groundskeeper, has been selected by lot to inform him. He does not take the news well, and makes his displeasure known by halfway cursing Faye, leaving her with an extra set of (cat) ears, a tail, and golden cat eyes. And yet, even though she has every reason to resent him, Faye does everything she can to help West when a distressing side effect of his death is revealed: if he does not find a successor by the full moon, Celurdur will crumble. And should Celurdur fall, the rest of the kingdom will not be far behind. What follows is a kooky tournament, lots of accidental hijinks, and a wonderful story about a girl bucking societal expectation to do what needs to be done.

I fell in love with Faye, and with Celurdur. I have a thing for sentient houses, and this castle was a wonderful iteration of that trope. Faye and the castle, West and the rest of the supporting cast, all had so much character. I was charmed pretty immediately. I found Faye such a believable heroine. She wasn’t trying to turn society on its head. She didn’t have any kind of hero complex. Instead, she saw problems that needed to be solved, saw that no one else was going to step up, and did her best to solve those problems. She was also very kind and caring, even to those who didn’t deserve her kindness or care. She was incredibly clever and hardworking, and had such a core of goodness. But she never felt like a Mary Sue, or insufferable in any way. She was someone I would love to have in my corner.

The rest of the cast was great, as I stated above. They had a lot of personality between them. Wizard West, Prince Max, Princess Illian, and Puck the cat were the standouts. But, in my opinion, Faye was definitely the star of the show. This was her story. And I can’t wait to see where her story goes next. I’ll definitely be doing everything I can to get my hands on the sequel as soon as it’s available. If there’s a sequel. I really, really hope there’s a sequel!

The Girl Who Kept the Castle was nowhere on my radar before the author reached out to me. She compared the book to Nevermoor and Howl’s Moving Castle, both of which I love. And she was spot on with her comparison! I don’t always accept review requests directly from authors, as I have so much to read and feel guilty about making promises I’m not sure I can keep, but I’m so glad I made an exception for this book. It was an absolute delight. I can see myself getting my niece a copy for her birthday or Christmas. But this is a great book for any age!

Expected publication date: June 18th, 2024

You can pre-order this book from: Blackwell’s | (Support independent bookstores!) | (Another way to support independent bookstores!)

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