This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Thirteen” Series.
Thirteen-year-old Avery lives in the woods with her father and younger brother, Henry. One evening, an old woman captures the children. Avery awakes to find the woman has taken her to a mysterious glass castle. Her brother is nowhere to be found, but the place is teeming with other kids about her age.
Her new friend, Kate, begins by warning Avery that no one is allowed to go, or even look, outdoors. Avery soon learns everyone there is an orphan. This makes her wonder if something has happened to her father. Kate reveals an old king is being coerced into marrying a young, power-hungry woman named Angelina so he can produce an heir. At Angelina’s request, he has ordered all 13-year-old orphans to be “discarded.” Angelina secretly fears the king’s son from his first wife didn’t die in childbirth, as everyone believes. She wants to be the one to provide an heir so she can rule the kingdom.
The kids secretly run every aspect of the castle, from the mending and cooking to correspondence with foreign dignitaries. The king and other adults have no idea this is happening, though Avery suspects Angelina knows what’s going on. Avery falls for a boy named Tuck. When he is voted junior king by the other kids, he chooses Avery to be his queen. This angers a girl named Ilsa, whose twin brother, Edward, also lives in the castle. Ilsa threatens Avery and tells her to stay away from Tuck.
The children have a lot of fun at times. They wear fancy clothes that able seamstresses like Kate have cut down from the royals’ cast-off clothing. They also eat well. Avery realizes this is probably the best situation many of these orphaned kids have ever known. She’s still concerned that her brother is locked somewhere in this sprawling castle and wonders what has happened to her dad.
Further questions arise for her when many of the castle rooms she sees are familiar. She realizes it’s because her mother once described them to her in great detail. Her mother disappeared two years earlier, giving Avery an ornate ruby necklace. Someone steals the necklace from Avery, and Avery sees the former queen wearing it in an old portrait. How could her mother have known so much about this castle?
Even though she’s bonded with Kate, Tuck and others, Avery decides she has to escape the castle and look for her dad. She makes the treacherous journey back to her house, only to find it inhabited by thugs. There, she runs into Edward, Ilsa’s brother, who recently vanished from the castle. Despite everyone’s concerns that he’d been sent to the Forbidden City, Avery learns Edward has left the castle to join up with rebels who would overthrow the king. Edward asks her to marry him and join the rebellion. Avery decides she must return to the castle to get the answers she needs. She also realizes she has fallen for Tuck.
When Avery returns, the others are initially angry with her for leaving. Tuck admits that he has fallen for her as well. Avery had been hoping to glean information about the castle’s mysteries from the old woman who had kidnapped her. But shortly after she returns, the old woman is found dead. The kids suspect foul play. Avery learns the old woman was Kate’s grandmother. Kate explains she (Kate) has been charged with the responsibility of watching over Avery. Avery is convinced Kate knows much more than she’s saying about the mysteries of the castle and the possible living heir, who would be about 13, if he were still alive.
Since Avery is a talented organist, she is tasked with writing a theme song for the king’s upcoming Olympiad. The king has declared that the entire kingdom will be invited, and Avery hopes this will be a chance for her to locate her father. Clinging to the unshakeable feeling that she’s been put in these circumstances for a reason, Avery continues to recollect her mother’s descriptions of the castle and its maze of tunnels beneath. As her faith in God grows, she invests more effort in praying that He will provide the answers she’s seeking.
Avery remembers things her mother said about God. She’s not sure about Him at first. Kate urges her to join some of the kids for worship services in the castle chapel. There, they sing hymns. Their young chaplain quotes Scripture and offers biblical messages. When Avery tells Kate the chapel is a great place for self-reflection, Kate reminds her that its purpose is to reflect on God. As tensions mount in the castle, Avery kneels in the chapel and cries out to God. She asks for wisdom, courage and safety. She also ponders how choosing to side against the king (God’s ordained leadership) might equate to siding against God himself.
An old woman who appears to be kidnapping children is actually saving their lives. The queen-to-be, afraid the king’s heir by his deceased first wife will be found alive, tries to eradicate all 13-year-old orphans. She has coerced the aging king into marrying her so they can produce an heir. The king seems unaware of the rumor that the first heir may be alive. Avery’s mother disappeared two years earlier, but the girl still remembers her words of wisdom and detailed descriptions of the castle.
The king, evidentially sick, coughs up blood. A drunken peddler attacks Avery, and she hits him over the head with a bottle in self-defense.
Edward kisses Avery on the cheek.
The romance side of this story and the boy-girl dialogue seems a bit beyond the 13-year-old age of the kids. A 13-year-old is proposed to and falls in love.
Dishonesty: Kendrick signs castle papers, forging the signatures of several castle dignitaries.
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