The cover is fantastically designed and to look at. The front cover is created like you are looking from a stage into the audience. Only that the audience here is a view into the night with a castle in the background. If you open the front cover, you can see what the curtain hides from your eyes. And to be honest: It is the best thing about this book.

by Anna Herzog
Illustration Frauke Maydorn
Publisher Coppenrath on June 20, 2018
Genre Children 10+
Pages 282
Format Hardcover
Source Library

“The portrait was no different from the others. Something caught Merle´s gaze – and those were the young woman´s eyes. They lived. Merle turned around again and was startled: She watched her go! The woman in the picture looked after her!” A mysterious whisper blows through the walls of the old castle, where Merle is taking part in a theater workshop – certainly, the spirit of the past! When Merle and her friends find ancient costumes of magical beauty, they decide to perform a play from a bygone era. But there is something uncanny in the air: Why does Merle feel such a nameless horror when she meets the lord of the castle, the old count? Why do they manage everything as if by magic as soon as they wear the theater clothes? And is it still their own piece that they are rehearsing – or is it the age-old, cruel game of costumes? (personal translation by ©Vi at Inkvotary).
Merle and her little brother are spending their vacation at a castle. There, they take part in a theater workshop where they have the task to create their own play. Together with two other boys they start to discover their environment and the many secrets the castle apparently has. Or why is it, that every time they wear what they found in the old basement makes them feel different and see things they believe can´t be true?

The only thing that is interesting to the reader is, besides the great created front cover, the castle itself. The author has created a place that is not new but filled with a sort of magic that I thought was a wonderful start. Sadly, the author hasn´t thought things through and leaves the reader hanging in a confused story with voices you can´t figure out where they belong to. Not until the very end. And that was, in my opinion, too late.

The story is about a bird, a magpie. The book title is the, without going too deep into the story itself, translation from the Old High German word “Agalstra”. Because the author is a German author and apparently loves to write about a certain topic. I was kind of fascinated when I found out about his meaning. Which is the reason, why the book has this title. The rest was, I must repeat myself, confusing and not easy to understand. It took me a while to see the context and when I think about a book for children all I can say is, that they want to discover and guess things way sooner. A child book must fascinate its young readers and here, that is not given. Sad. Incredibly sad.

While the story itself is partly interesting to read, the figures themselves are as stereotypical as they can be. A bitchy blonde, a vain fop, a wild and poor girl, and her well-behaved little brother. Not bad per se, but not new either in its combination.

Merle is a girl with a heart in the right place. She knows how it feels when you can´t afford everything and when the kid must be the grown-up in a family because the father is living in his own world. At least sometimes. What I loved about the main character is that she isn´t judging others because of what she sees. She looks behind the façade.

The story is confusing, and I am still wondering what the plot was. A lot of questions remain unanswered. The story itself has no structure and the black pages with the white lettering are hard to read. As I said. The front cover is the best this novel has to offer. Sad to say it but for me only an average book.

Happy reading

*This book was, at the time this review was published, only available in the German language.

Anna Herzog
Anna Herzog ©Gesine Narciß

Anna Herzog is a school doctor but has also worked as a freelance journalist and translator. In the past, she was often abroad for short and long periods of time. Today she lives with her husband, her four children, and a changing group of animals in the Ruhr area.


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