My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Thirteen-year-old Sand woke up, magically transported to an abandoned, destroyed castle, with no idea how he got there. Nothing lives or grows there, except the vicious thorny bramble that surrounds the entire castle, preventing Sand from leaving. Then, Sand finds the castle’s lost heir, Perrotte, who he seems to have awoken from the dead. Since the thorns attack them if they try to leave, Sand and Perrotte must work together to discover the secrets that caused the destruction of the castle and to figure out how to mend it.
I am drawn to fairy tale retellings and reinterpretations. The Castle Behind Thorns does not disappoint with this. It's a deeper, more complex version of Sleeping Beauty. While Sand is not a prince fighting his way through thorns into the castle to kiss awake a sleeping princess, he is definitely noble and certainly used magic to wake up Perrotte. The fact that both main characters had interests, desires and personal goals made them far more interesting than the original tale.
This is a quiet story, being slow to build up in the beginning and focusing on the emotional journey of the characters. The themes of forgiveness and friendship were handled beautifully. Religion was laced in, but not in a heavy-handed, lecturing way. It was refreshing that no romantic subtext was added, as that would have taken away from the friendship that built between Sand and Perrotte.
The Castle Behind Thorns is a mix of historical fiction and magical realism. Set in medieval times and using modern prose and dialogue, it's an approachable book for a middle grade reader.