Lodie leaves her parents behind to try and get an apprenticeship as a mansioner (actress) during Guild Week in the city of Two Castles. It isn’t until she’s at sea that she learns that the guilds no longer offer free ten year apprenticeships. Unable to afford the cost of a shorter apprenticeship, Lodie decides to take her chances and ask for a longer period of service once she locates the mansioners.
Once in the city, Lodie finds nothing is as she expected. Her one coin is stolen by an enterprising cat. People suspect her willingness to help as a sign that she is trying to steal. The old goodwife who helped her on the boat journey over tells her she cannot help her in the city.
Told to avoid the city’s dragon and ogre by her parents, she finds her life tangled with both before the end of her first day in Two Castles. When she first encounters Meenore the dragon toasting food for coin in the market, Lodie dares to tell another customer that he was rude for cutting off the rest of the line. That customer was Count Jonty Um, ogre. Most people cut Jonty Um a wide berth, fearing the large shape-changer. The city is teeming with cats because the cats are trained to force ogres into shifting into mice if there are enough of them working in concert.
When Lodie’s audition to become a mansioner is turned down despite a decent performance, the dragon Meenore offers her a place as ITs assistant. Lodie is to proclaim, help prepare food for toasting and observe. As part of her position Lodie is sent to Jonty Um’s castle to keep an eye on things as he prepares to host a party and after the disappearance of his favorite dog and poaching occurring on his property.
The party goes awry when the cats in attendance stalk Jonty Um. He vanishes in mouse form and the king falls ill. Lodie must try to figure out who is responsible and set things right before it is too late. Is it the goodwife who is now dressed in fashionable clothes? Is it Meenore the dragon? What about handsome Thiel who turns up everywhere?
I enjoyed Levine’s foray into mystery with A Tale of Two Castles. I found the idea of a dragon commoner amusing and thought Meenore was well portrayed. I enjoyed Lodie’s ability to think past her assumptions given time and how Meenore coaches her to recall more than she normally would. This is a light read that would well appeal to fans of Patricia Wrede and E.D. Baker.