Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist by Liz Kessler

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Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist by Liz Kessler
Buy Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist from Amazon.co.uk

Buy Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist from Amazon.com

Genre: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Enjoyable but underwhelming fantasy adventure which will for sure be enjoyed by many girls. Teenage psychology underlying Emily's adventure will enable many to relate to her; especially those dealing with mixed family background, or any worried about fitting in and their own identity. Nothing special, but not terrible either. If you have a daughter of suitable age who is into things magical and mermaidy, you might as well borrow this, but don't buy, especially for the full hardback price. Liz Kessler popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 208 Date: September 2006
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
ISBN: 1842551191

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I am bit suspicious of books that are clearly aimed at a particular demographic. They seem a tad mercenary and product-like to me. But perhaps it's wrong - after all the 'cross-over' idea also often leads to clumsy results.

Emily Windsnap and The Castle in the Mist is clearly a book for junior school aged girls. The main character is 12 and the book is clearly aimed at (and will probably appeal to) girls aged 7-11. Emily Windsnap and The Castle in the Mist is a third book in a series by Liz Kessler. Emily Windsnap of the title is a semi-mer, half mermaid, half human (that means mermaid in water, human on land), living with her human mother and merman father on a semi-submerged old pirate ship on All-Points Island, going to mermaid school where she meets her best friend Shona, does Ocean Studies but also learns how to adorn her tail and sit gracefully on rocks. One day Emily find a mysterious, magical diamond ring and unleashes a series of events that will take her to the castle of the title, expose her to Neptune's curse and unravel a mystery surrounding the whole issue of human-mer intermarriage.

As you can see, Emily Windsnap and The Castle in the Mist is an underwater fantasy adventure story and as such works well: a lot happens, not all of it predictable, the plot moves at reasonable speed and the characters engage in normal adventure story type heroics. Emily is a bit more self-doubting than one would expect (perhaps because she is a girl, perhaps because heroics are not in fashion nowadays) but gets there in the end.

The descriptions of the underwater world are vividly evocative if a bit gushy and florid. They do seem tucked onto the main story as an afterthought though, as does quite a lot of scenes. As I was reading the book to my five year old (admittedly not its intended audience) I found it very easy to skip parts of it, and not just some of the internal musings of Emily but also a lot of description and quite few parts of action (small-talk type conversations, moon gazing and toast eating scenes). I do not expect a Dan-Brown type roller-coaster of action by any means, but there is a difference between slower scenes and descriptions that seamlessly integrate into the story and become its necessary part even if they don't move the main plot forward and ones that form a kind of padding. A lot of Emily Windsnap and The Castle in the Mist felt bit padded to me.

This adventure-tale aspect of the story is what interested my five year old and this is what gives Emily Windsnap and The Castle in the Mist its wider appeal, both age and gender wise.

Underneath the fantasy adventure, there is a Jacqueline-Wilson type tale in Emily Windsnap. Emily is worried about her parents marriage, blames herself for their fall-outs and desperately wants them to be happy together. On top of these concerns, there is also a theme of her whole identity: as a child of a mixed marriage who only recently discovered her mermaid side she doesn't want to lose either half of her heritage but doesn't want to be left in the middle as not-fitting-anywhere freak either. This theme can be of course easily translated to mean any of our human relationship concerns and would apply to children of parents who came from different ethnic, nationality or religious backgrounds. The question of if two people (??) from two such different worlds can live together in harmony can even be applied to the current world political situation if somebody wished to do so.

All these concerns of Emily are repeatedly voiced throughout the book (she is a narrator of the story) though I thought they were voiced in a bit of a clumsy, over-explained manner and unnecessarily endlessly repeated. Also, the florid expressions that didn't grate much when applied to descriptions of the underwater world, feel definitely over the top when applied to emotional states. There is far too much gasping, cold shivers that run like electricity and urgent thoughts whipping at Emily's mind like waves. I don't think it would bother the readers from the target demographic, though.

The characters are sympathetic and well described, differing by more than their hair colour or type of sheen on their scales. There is some humour in the book too while Emily is likeable in her torment and confusion and drawn to resemble a 'typical teenager' in her concerns and reactions.

The inevitable comparison has to be, of course, with Harry Potter with whom Emily Windsnap shares two crucial characteristics (a magical creature discovering their inheritance and a teenager with a hang-up about his parents) and the verdict has to be that Harry Potter it ain't. Adults are not likely to read Emily Windsnap series for themselves and it's not as engagingly gripping as Rowling's books can be at their best and neither is it anywhere near as well written as children's fantasy classics like Narnia or Hobbit. Or even Northern Lights.

The main problem with the adventure aspect of the story is that it doesn't have a single proper baddie, which makes it rather anodyne. The idea that evil, hate and anger comes from having been hurt before and/or misunderstandings conforms to the current therapeutic culture and would work OK for a realist novel, but in a fantasy tale you need clear moral divisions and a baddie-less fairy-tale has somehow much less emotional appeal then traditional ones in which the evil was, well, evil.

There were moments of real magic in the story, especially towards the final resolution where Emily's quest becomes truly a matter of life and death; but ultimately Emily Windsnap and The Castle in the Mist fails to impress because of the way it's written: a bit too anodyne to truly move, a bit mercenary in the way it uses the Harry Potter template, and a bit ham-fisted in the way it all fits together, rarely achieving a sparkle needed for a novel that would truly grip one's heart.

All in all, Emily Windsnap and The Castle in the Mist is an enjoyable but underwhelming fantasy adventure which will for sure be enjoyed by many girls. The dust jacket is lovely in shades of green and turquoise with gold speckles, the illustrations (chapter headers) tasteful and atmospheric and the normal teenage psychology underlying Emily's adventure will enable many to relate to her; especially those dealing with mixed background problems, or any worried about fitting in and their own identity - and which teenager isn't?

As I said before, suitable for approximately ages 7 to 11. A reasonably intelligent 6 year old will be capable of enjoying the girly, mermaidy adventure plot (if she can read the almost 200 pages) while broadening her vocabulary, and some older children might still be attracted by the combination of fantasy with the realistic psychology.

Nothing very special, but not terrible either. If you have a daughter of suitable age who is into things magical and mermaidy, you might as well borrow this, but don't buy, certainly not for the full hardback price.

Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist was kindly sent to the Bookbag by Orion Children's Books.

Buy Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist by Liz Kessler at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist by Liz Kessler at Amazon.


Bookinterviews.jpg Liz Kessler was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

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Dave said:

Sounds like something my older daughter would enjoy as she is very much the girly girl. A bit uninspired but if we see it at the library she might be pointed towards it.

nata444 said:

my daughter loves this series and I love seeing her read so i give this a 5 star report