Genre: Middle-grade fantasy
SUMMARY – THE CASTLE OF FEARS
Tony Quigley isn’t sure which is worse -- the monsters stalking him that no one else sees, or his obnoxious classmate, Marcus. Marcus is obnoxious, constantly insults Tony, and even steals an amulet from Tony’s twin sister Josephine. When Marcus insults Tony’s missing father, Tony’s hatred turns to rage. Later that evening, Marcus vanishes. Tony knows Marcus didn’t run away, but before he can do anything, the minotaur – a half-man, half-bull monster – captures Tony and Josephine and takes them to a jungle world far from home.
Tony and Josephine flee from the monster and wander deeper into the alien jungle, where they meet Doram, a lost solider. Doram agrees to lead them to his hometown and the Seer, the greatest magician in the world. Together they outwit the minotaur and reach Doram’s hometown of Spirah, a strange place of gaudy colors, alien people, and magic. They meet the Seer, but he refuses to send Tony and Josephine home until he rescues Marcus, who is held by the evil magician Malengogg in the Castle of Fears.
When the minotaur appears again, Tony is sure it will kill him, but instead the minotaur gives Tony a message: you must save him. Tony convinces himself that the minotaur is referring to his missing father, but in his heart he knows he's supposed to save Marcus. With the Seer’s blessing, Tony sets off to rescue the person he hates most. Despite his protests, Josephine and Doram insist on accompanying him.
They travel through Malengogg’s desolate realm to the gates of the castle. Doram and Tony fight a magic creature, while Josephine uses magic to open a portal into the castle. Doram realizes that Malengogg will notice the magic, so he creates a diversion with a series of magic spells. Tony and Josephine enter the castle unnoticed but unarmed.
The Castle of Fears is horrible – dark, confusing, lonely, and the words of crazed prisoners scream inside Tony’s head. But when he hears Marcus’s voice, he follows the words backward to Marcus’s prison. Marcus is as obnoxious as ever, to Tony’s irritation, and the rescuers become trapped as well, because soul-eating ghosts wander the halls at night.
While they wait for daybreak, Marcus tells about the horrors of the castle and Malengogg, including his encounter with the ghosts. He gives Josephine her amulet back, and she realizes it has powerful magic -- Malengogg’s true desire.
In the morning they attempt to escape, but Malengogg plays with them and leads them into his magic tower. Josephine recognizes Malengogg’s secret weapon, a scrying pool able to see anyone in any world. She wants to destroy it, but Tony prevents her from destroying the pool. Instead, he attempts to use it to contact his father, but before he succeeds, Malengogg interrupts him. The evil magician tries to win the amulet by guile and magic. When that fails, he offers Tony a choice -- to either rescue Marcus or to find his father. Tony rescues Marcus, and Josephine destroys the amulet and the scrying pool. Infuriated, Malengogg tries to kill them. They run, but are trapped until the minotaur appears and takes them to the Seer.
The Seer praises Tony for his strength, but Tony is ashamed. He asks about his father, but the Seer only says that their father is not on that world, but he challenges Tony to keep hoping and searching for his father.
The minotaur, mysterious as always, takes Tony, Josephine, and Marcus home -- as friends.
This is a good crisp synopsis. Are kids still reading stuff this obvious though? Didn’t Lemony Snicket make the world safe for middle grade irony?