Sand wakes up in the fireplace of the castle that was ruined by an earthquake many years before, and is now hidden behind a thick ring of thorns. He doesn’t know how he got there, and as he walks around and sees the utter destruction of everything in the castle, he begins to realize that it was not an earthquake that sundered the castle, but something more powerful and otherworldly. As he sets to mending everything, he starts to bring the castle back to life, including a girl who died many years ago. As their friendship grows, they begin to see that their task is more than just physically mending the castle, but psychically mending it too.
I loved that this book is gripping from the first sentence. There is no set-up, we are just in the fireplace with Sand, as bewildered and uncomprehending as he is. From there, I enjoyed his exploration of the castle, and then the way his imagination helps him to start mending and surviving, which reminded me in some ways of the early parts of Andy Weir’s The Martian.
Sand and Perrotte are believable, appealing and intriguing – both in their pre-castle existences, then when they create their own world in the castle, and finally even when they recognize that they must face what they were before, as they leave the castle. Though I would say I thought they and their proto-romance felt older than 12/13, but maybe that’s just the Middle Ages for you.
When I was reading the Cybil finalists, this one fell to the bottom of my pile as I’d read Merrie Haskell’s The Princess Curse a while ago, and found it pretty ho hum. However, from the first page I was absolutely loving this – that inner feeling of ‘this is really good!’ and, as I approached the end, I got the internal ‘please don’t blow the ending’ wobble and Haskell doesn’t, the ending is satisfying, coherent and gratifyingly complex.
The themes of what forgiveness actually means, friendship and spiritual (and physical) mending are beautifully integrated, and are, I think, meaningful to middle graders. This is an elegant and polished fractured fairytale, laced with some early Christianity, that should have great appeal for sophisticated readers.