Published by Penguin on April 21st 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Personal Copy
Sexual Content: None.
Reviewed by: Kim
From the creator of Dragonbreath comes a tale of witches, minions, and one fantastic castle, just right for fans of Roald Dahl and Tom Angleberger.When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail's doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle's minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of all: that she isn't who she says she is.This quirky, richly illustrated novel is filled with humor, magic, and an unforgettable all-star cast of castle characters.
This is a fabulous story with fabulous characters. Molly, the “Wicked Witch” who comes to Castle Hangnail to govern it, is smart and ready to face the difficult tasks ahead - most important of which is getting the minions on her side!
Whether it’s the minotaur cook in the kitchen who hates anything to do with the letter Q, a stitched together (more than once) majordomo or the pin cushion doll with a hypochondriac goldfish, Vernon makes every secondary character interesting. She hints at just enough backstory to flesh out the magical beings of the castle (and the human beings living in the nearby village) without taking away from Molly’s story.
Molly is the kind of character you can look up to, who isn’t perfect (she has told a mighty big lie to get where she is) but who tries very hard to be kind to her new friends, all while being very, very wicked.
It’s actually great fun when the real world interrupts the fantasy in CASTLE HANGNAIL; the book takes place in this day and age, and they have real world issues, like massive plumbing bills and herb gardens grown too wild. The people in the village are also all human, but they are mostly very accepting of the stitched man who comes to pick up mail once a week and the special deliveries needed to keep a magical castle running. It made for a fun setting that had me grinning throughout.
The illustrations throughout the book are simple but do a brilliant job illustrating the strange things Molly encounters. Dragon donkeys and mechanical bees are beautifully illustrated in Vernon’s detailed cartoon style.
As an adult recommending this book to a childm I would mention a dramatic fight with an enchantress, pacts with bats and moles, and how great Molly is at getting out of all the sticky situations she finds herself in. I wouldn't necessarily mention how story encourages self-esteem, finding out who your real friends are, and not being afraid of being different. It does all those things in spades, without being preachy.
CASTLE HANGNAIL is great for younger readers, but just as fun as a quick read for older teens and adults.More Reviews:
- For more snarky, clever protagonists who have to deal with unusual, but typically kind, monsters, check out Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede.
- For more high fantasy with a hilarious twist, try The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett.
- For more magical girls in a modern setting, give Matilda, by Roald Dahl a try.