A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine– A girl must strike out on her own, leaving her farming family behind, voyaging to find apprenticeship in the far away city of Two Castles. One castle houses a horrible king, who trips up servants forcing them to apologize for what (he!) they had done, and he of course pardons them to seem a kindly king, and an ogre, who is far more kind and friendly than his ghastly parents, but no one cares or believes and so keep cats who can control the mind of ogres. Along the way she meets a shady goodwife, befriends a princess, is stolen from by a cat, learns the ogre isn’t half bad, and eats toasted cheese and skewered meat ala dragon fire. Elodie wants to be an actress, and is excellent at her parts. However, she is refused by the best house and ends up taking up shop with the resident dragon, who happens to be a clean freak but is kind and feeds her well. Someone is after the ogre and the dragon and Elodie must find out who and how before it is too late using indicative and deductive logic, natural to dragons.
This is a novel where intellect and observation is key. No lazy minds need apply, but there are no tricks for the reader. We know as soon as Elodie knows. She goes undercover as a lowly maid in the kitchen to gain access to Ogre Jonty Um castle. The castle servants are surprisingly supportive despite the surrounding citizenry’s disgust for the ogre. A number of people end up poisoned, including Elodie-almost. Suffice it to say the apple does not fall far from the tree. Some of the random, shady characters from the beginning are finally explained. All loose ends are tied up with no questions. This was very good, not surprised she is a Newbery Honor Author. I can’t wait to jump into her other novels, like Elle Enchanted and The Wish!