Reviews /

Escape The Medieval Castle

Authored by Stella Caldwell
Published by Weldon Owen Children's Books

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An historical rampage through a medieval castle, or perhaps a timid, side-stepping tumble; the direction the story takes in this book is owned by you, the reader. Your challenge, as a 13-year-old, kidnapped and imprisoned noble in the 14th century, is to try and escape from a castle in the Middle Ages. As you read through each sub-heading section of action, you will often (but not always) be given choices: sometimes you just need to make a direct decision between two or three different choices, sometimes you will need to solve a puzzle or answer a quiz style history question, sometimes you will need to trust to the luck of the heraldic wheel of fortune. As you continue your way through the story, you either survive or are captured and then sent back to the beginning to try again, if you dare.

The introduction to the book gives you a small appraisal of what life might have been like for a range of different members of society in 1389. Castle life is also introduced with the different senses and lots of key historical words are used. For readers who have studied or are studying the Middle Ages this would be acceptable. However, only a few words are explained, either in the text or in the diagrams. A glossary would be helpful for those not having much knowledge of this time period as some of the challenges also require historical knowledge of this period. The final paragraph drips intrigue and excitement and helps encourage the reader to turn the page!

The plot and your background are clearly explained, along with the instructions of how to escape. The challenges and extra information on each page ooze mundane and interesting historical knowledge and facts which would really support the reader in their learning of the time period. Each of the challenges is unique and needs a different skill to solve it. For example, one asks you to solve a logic pattern, another is a memory test, whilst another need you to solve a riddle. The ‘Help’ challenge allows you to continue even if you haven’t solved the challenge, which I don’t think should happen (especially as there is a ‘true path’ or answer guide at the back of the book).

I think it is really useful how each stage of the challenge shows the path you have come from so if you get lost/confused you can make your way back a few steps rather than having to start the whole challenge again (which I have experienced in other books of this genre).
This book is best for children aged 9 years and above who are studying or have studied the medieval period of history. It would be best as a class together as I’m really sure a class would enjoy making the choices of which path to choose together, rather than a group read. As each section is generally short, it would be good to have children reading each section. The book would fit into the history section of a school library as a unique way in putting across historical knowledge.

The book focuses just on you as the main character trying to escape. There is no teamwork involved and only a few choices are based on someone else helping you escape. A discussion about working with others and trust would be helpful. Gambling, injury by weapons, a skeleton, physical punishment, intake of alcohol, stealing, bravery are all mentioned in the story or used as a means of escape. These would need to be discussed with children if being used in a class or small group, as some children may have different experiences of these in their own lives. Also, a great deal of the book continues to ask if you are brave enough to continue, when sometimes not being brave is the right choice and not the be all and end all of everything in life.

Shortlisted for the Week Junior Book Awards 2023, Older Non-Fiction Category