I listed this as one of my favorite books of the year so far a couple of months ago now… so perhaps I should review it.
Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon. Dial Books, 2015.
As our story opens, the minions of Castle Hangnail are preparing for the sad day in the near future when their castle will be magically decommissioned, the minions dispersed to other locations. They have been advertising for a new overlord for months, and no one has come. And then comes a kind-looking twelve-year-old girl with only fearsome boots to support her claim of being a wicked witch. The Frankenstein-like Majordomo isn’t necessarily convinced, but she has an invitation, and they are desperate, so she’s allowed to try. Molly isn’t letting on that she isn’t Eudaimonia, the Sorceress to whom the letter was originally addressed, and she’s willing to do what it takes for an evil castle of her own.
Soon, a list of tasks on magical stationary appears, including “1) Take possession of the castle and surrounding grounds 2) secure and defend the castle 3) Commit at least one (1) act of smiting and three (3) acts of blighting. 4) Win the hearts and minds of the townsfolk by any means necessary.” Slowly, Molly wins over the minions – a motley crew including the Majordomo; Sir Edward, an animated suit of armor; Serinissima, the djinni/mermaid steam maiden;Pins, the sewing burlap doll and his goldfish; and Cook and Angus, Minotaurs. She gets to know people both good and bad in the village, including Miss Handlebram, an elderly lady fond of gardening. Molly is just beginning to believe that she might be an OK Wicked Witch after, when someone else decides the castle might be worth having…
This is a winning combination of silly humor and exciting action with a surprising amount of heart. Molly may consider herself a Wicked Witch, but her version of wickedness consists mostly of letting people who’ve done wrong learn their lesson. Her journey to believing in herself, saving the Minions and the village on the way, is deeply satisfying. This is a little longer and more in-depth than Vernon’s Dragonbreath books – good for a slightly older audience, but still with Vernon’s own distinctive illustrations and with definite appeal for reluctant as well as avid readers.