BOOK REVIEW: There May Be a Castle by Piers Torday
Quercus Children’s Books
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
Mouse doesn’t exactly fit in… at school or at home. He’s always been rather short for his age, would prefer to play with his toys than other kids his own age, and he spends most of his time in day dreams. But he’s completely happy being himself, even if “himself” is so out of sync with the rest of the world.
He was eleven and apparently that meant he had to read books that had more words than pictures, or even no picture. He was supposed to be able to sleep with the lights off, and everyone said he was too old to carry a stuffed toy around with him all the time.
Mouse didn’t get what the problem was.
So long as he has his toy horse, Nonky, nothing can bring him down.
‘Do you really need that?’ his mum would complain. ‘I’ve washed it a thousand time and it still stinks of trainers. You’re too grown-up to be playing with a babyish toy like that.’
‘You’re such a little boy sometimes,’ his big sister Violet would often add.
Not his dad moving to California to be with another woman, leaving their mum to look after him and his sisters; not little Esme who likes to muck up the settings on his iPad games and who is always coated in “choclit”; not even Christmas, which he hates.
So long as he has Nonky, he can survive anything.
And then the very worst thing that could happen, does.
On the way to their grandparents’ for Christmas, driving through a blizzard – with presents loaded in the boot; Violet, Mouse and Esme in the back seat; and a Christmas cake balanced on the front passenger seat – their car goes off the road and Mouse is thrown out through the front window.
When he wakes, he can’t remember where he is. He’s cold, and lost, and there’s a sheep he names “Bar” who seems to have taken a liking to him. But there’s something dark in the Haunted Forest that is after him. A something dark that Nonky has told him he’s not allowed to look at because it will only make it stronger.
Oh yeah, because Nonky is suddenly gigantic, can talk, and is a girl who sounds strangely like his big sister when she speaks. If only he could remember his sister’s name, where she went, and why he feels there’s something important he must be doing.
‘Hello? Is anyone there?’ There were some specific names he should be calling. What were they again? ‘Names?’ he called out, but that didn’t sound right. His words fell into a silence as long and deep as a tunnel to the centre of the earth.
Mouse sets off on his quest to find the castle, his toys helping him along the way.
Back in the car, Violet is using her own imagination, paired with her knowledge of the pirate queen Gráinne O’Malley, to work out what she and toddler Esme should do, since their mum is unconscious and they’re without methods to let people know they’re in need of rescue.
‘This, little knight,’ said the horse quietly, ‘is the most exciting story you will every be in. This is a story of peril, of quests and a brave hero. It is a story of magic and wonder. There will be monsters. Not to mention a king and a wizard or two. Prepare for fights, feasts, dancing and song. Strap on your armour and polish your shield. Blood may be spilt, battles will be won and lost, but with any luck our enemy will be vanquished – because this, Mouse Mallory, is your story.’
Heading into this story, it can be a little hard to work out what’s going on, or even what the author is trying to achieve, and I’ll be honest, I think there were some methods he employed that went over my head, or which might sink in given time.
On finishing this book, bits and pieces of the story were still swirling, and I knew I had been on something of a rollercoaster ride, but I did not know how it had left me feeling. Now 72 hours later, I know that it definitely got inside me and I want to name future animals after some of the characters within.
This is not a read that will blow you away immediately and leave you unable to function, but it is a story that covers something we can all relate to, and which will creep up on you and leave you teary before you know it.
It is quirky and sweet and funny, and you can’t help but feel for these characters. Though it is also something of a strange and surreal ride, this is definitely recommended for those readers who like their Middle Grade titles to have a bit of substance and meaning beneath the make-believe.
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