Review: The Crooked Castle by Sarah Jean Horwitz

thecrookedcastleThe Crooked Castle by Sarah Jean Horwitz

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Carmer and Grit

Date Published: April 10th, 2018

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Pages: 368 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Shortly after saving the faeries of Skemantis, magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III and his faerie companion, Grit, head out to see the world. They soon come across a mysteriously magical flying circus. As they get to know the outlandish world of Rinka Tinka’s Roving Wonder Show, it becomes clear there’s something not quite normal about this circus or its inventor—and that recent airship disasters plaguing nearby Driftside City may have a sinister explanation.

Fans of the Wildwood trilogy and Lockwood & Co. series will love the thrills and chills of The Crooked Castle as it takes readers up in the air with a flying circus, under the sea to the evil Unseelie kingdom, through a terrifying magical snowstorm, and on a chase with the menacing Wild Hunt.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This is one of those novels that is very challenging to review because of how much I loved it—I have absolutely no idea where to start. At the beginning of last year, I read the first book in this series, The Wingsnatchers, and it quickly ended up becoming one of my all-time favorites. The Crooked Castle was, by far, my most anticipated book of this year, and I was not disappointed in the least. This novel is equally as charming, thrilling, and heartwarming as the last. I so enjoyed returning to this beautifully crafted world and following the adventures of this incredible cast of characters. This novel is pure magic.

We begin following Carmer and Grit not long after their heroic acts in Skemantis, as they set out on their journey to see the world. Though they are pursuing adventure, it usually finds them first—and this time around, it literally comes crashing into their lives in the form of a balloon and its balloonist, Bell Daisimer. Bell joins the pair in order to get to a city where he can find the necessary parts to repair his balloon, but his stay is not quite as temporary as they all expect.

They soon discover a glider mixed up in the remnants of Bell’s balloon, and inside the glider is an exclusive invitation to Rinka Tinka’s Roving Wonder Show—a massive flying circus. Upon arrival in Driftside City, and after gaining access to the Wonder Show, it becomes apparent that there is more to this flying circus than meets the eye. Everything appears to be much more mysterious—and decidedly too magical—than they ever could have anticipated.

To top it off, they learn of a whole slew of unexplained airship disasters that have recently been plaguing the city. In their attempts to investigate just what is behind these accidents and the inner workings of the show itself, they stumble across dark secrets and a lot of wicked Unseelie fairies as they attempt to save the lives of their newfound friends, as well as their own.

I completely devoured this novel. It immediately pulled me in, swept me away on an adventure, and melted my heart once again. Taking place in a steampunk world and packed with lovable characters, amazing inventions, and enchanting magical elements, it is such an utterly charming read. The narrative is incredibly fast-paced and exciting, with new twists and turns constantly popping up. Each page makes you eager to get to the next, and I found it difficult to put down.

Reading this story was an absolute joy–there is such a nostalgic tone to it for me. It made me feel so warm and comforted, as though it had wrapped itself around me like a cozy blanket. That is the same pleasant sense so many of my favorite books from my childhood evoked, and I love that I can still reflect on and experience that today due to novels like these. I can see myself cherishing these stories for a long time.

Horwitz’s remarkable talent for storytelling stands out even more than it did before. Her description and world-building are top-notch and her words flow flawlessly from page to page. Every single part of this story is crafted so meticulously, down to the most minor details, and filled with a tone that sparks that childlike sense of wonder. She knows exactly how to unfold fascinating stories, brimming with elements similar to those of a classic tale. It is easy to see the appeal of her work and nearly impossible not to feel a connection to it on some level.

The characters are one of the most wonderful aspects of this story. Whether they are lovable or despicable, they are so vivid. I love the fact that we are able to see more of Carmer and Grit’s friendship and how it has progressed since the last novel. They are a perfect pairing and complement each other so well. And I absolutely adored the new additions to the cast, particularly Bell and another character that enters closer to the end (no spoilers!). Everyone is so fleshed out and multi-dimensional, so it is hard not to become emotionally invested in them and their lives—they will work their way into your heart.

Horwitz seamlessly captivates her readers by making her work accessible to all generations. It is hard not to get caught up in this fantastical world—the type that fuels your imagination and feeds your soul. She not only has a huge amount of talent as a writer, but she is also extremely gifted when it comes to writing fresh, unique stories that still retain that timeless, fairytale-like quality. She is truly doing what she is clearly meant to do by writing these types of novels, and I am completely blown away by what she has created.

Overall, I wholeheartedly adored this novel and never wanted it to end. It met and exceeded all of my expectations, and I was completely enthralled all the way through. Just like the previous installment, Horwitz has produced a story that—while targeted at a middle grade audience—is universally enjoyable, spanning every age group. This novel is an absolute masterpiece and will undoubtedly touch the hearts of every reader. I very highly recommend diving into this enchanting world, and I hope there will be more stories to come in the near future.

5.0 TARDISes

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Guest Post: Author Sarah Jean Horwitz

Today’s post is a guest post about the process of character creation, written by the very lovely and talented author, Sarah Jean Horwitz. Sarah writes the Carmer and Grit series, which rocketed up my all-time favorites list early last year. I am incredibly honored to have this chance to feature her on my blog and to work with her to promote her wonderful books! Please make sure to check out Sarah on her websiteTwitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. The Carmer and Grit series consists of The Wingsnatchers and The Crooked Castle.

How to Grow a Boy

14612081The Crooked Castle, my second book in the Carmer and Grit series, begins with something very large crashing into Carmer’s roof.

Well, not something, exactly – someone. 

When seventeen year-old balloonist Bell Daisimer loses control of his balloon and literally crashes into the lives of Carmer and Grit, he starts a chain of events that leads them to a magical flying circus, a brand new mystery, and a whole lot of scary faeries. An aspiring pilot always game for an adventure, Bell helps Carmer and Grit navigate the aeronautical community they suddenly find themselves immersed in. The story couldn’t exist without him.

But Bell Daisimer was not always a balloonist.

In fact, the Bell Daisimer that exists on the pages of The Crooked Castle is nothing like the character I originally imagined – and that’s what so great about him, and about writing stories in general. Back in the early days of brainstorming for the book, Bell was one of the first characters I knew I wanted to add.

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The first book’s villain ran a number of enterprises, including a scientific school for boys. With the villain’s defeat came the unraveling of many of his businesses. Bell had little connection to said villain, but he was a scholarship student at that school. Bell lost his scholarship in the fallout, and at the start of the second book, he was determined to find out the real reason behind his benefactor’s meteoric rise and fall.

Bell was supposed to spend the book as the thorn in Carmer’s side, always sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, eagerly searching for evidence of faerie magic. Much of the book’s plot at that time revolved around telephone and radio technology, so Bell was named after – you guessed it – Alexander Graham Bell.

If you’ve read The Crooked Castle – or even taken a casual glance at the jacket! – you’ll know that there’s nary a mention of telephones, radios, or dissolved educational institutions. But Bell Daisimer somehow managed to make it through every iteration of the story, evolving and changing until he became the character on the page today.

thewingsnatchersThis character evolution was a new experience for me. Most of the characters in The Wingsnatchers simply popped into my head, fully formed and ready to be written. Carmer, Grit, the Amazifier, Kitty, Gideon Sharpe, Madame Euphemia – even minor characters like Echolaken and Ravene – they all simply appeared in my mind’s eye, walking and talking almost exactly as they do in the finished draft. I was extremely lucky to have such a great cast of characters pop out of nowhere, ready and waiting to be written about.

While writing The Crooked Castle, however, fewer characters appeared to me as fully formed. Many, like Bell, started out as mere seedlings of ideas. Perhaps I knew one or two of their distinguishing features, or how I wanted them to function in the story. I definitely had to work for them, teasing out their voices through lots of brainstorming, reading aloud, and revisions. 

Sometimes, stories and characters come easily, like a garden that flowers all at once, filled with vivid and healthy and complementary plants. Maybe they need a bit of rearranging or a bit more sun here and there, but otherwise, they’re complete. Other times, you’ve got to stare at your plot of dirt for a bit, plant a few seeds, and coax them into something beautiful yourself. You’ve got to go in pruning and weeding and watering and getting your hands dirty. Both processes have their pleasures – and at the end, you’ve still got a garden. The trick in storytelling, of course, is to make the finished story smooth enough that no one can tell how you grew it!

I hope you and your readers enjoy meeting Bell and the new cast of The Crooked Castle. Though this book was a challenge for me, I do hope to write more Carmer and Grit stories in the future. I can’t wait to see how my garden will grow with each one.

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The Crooked Castle will be out on April 10th! And of course, make sure to check out The Wingsnatchers as well!
My review of The Crooked Castle will be up in a few days, and if you would like to read my review of The Wingsnatchers, click the teacup below!

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