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Castle Hangnail

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From the creator of Dragonbreath comes a tale of witches, minions, and one fantastic castle, just right for fans of Roald Dahl and Tom Angleberger.

When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail's doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle's minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of that she isn't who she says she is.

This quirky, richly illustrated novel is filled with humor, magic, and an unforgettable all-star cast of castle characters.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published April 21, 2015

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About the author

Ursula Vernon

79 books1,024 followers
Ursula Vernon, aka T. Kingfisher, is an author and illustrator. She has written over fifteen books for children, at least a dozen novels for adults, an epic webcomic called “Digger” and various short stories and other odds and ends.

Ursula grew up in Oregon and Arizona, studied anthropology at Macalester College in Minnesota, and stayed there for ten years, until she finally learned to drive in deep snow and was obligated to leave the state.

Having moved across the country several times, she eventually settled in Pittsboro, North Carolina, where she works full-time as an artist and creator of oddities. She lives with her husband and his chickens.

Her work has been nominated for the Eisner, World Fantasy, and longlisted for the British Science Fiction Awards. It has garnered a number of Webcomics Choice Awards, the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story, the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s Literature, the Nebula for Best Short Story, the Sequoyah Award, and many others.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 586 reviews
Profile Image for carol..
1,537 reviews7,880 followers
April 4, 2023
Castle Hangnail is unbelievably charming and one of the first reads of the year to make it to my 'to buy' list. To be fair, there are a few issues, but any book I finish and immediately start re-reading is a solid five-star read.

Castle Hangnail is in need of a master or mistress. No matter if it is an Evil Sorceress, Loathsome Hag, Vampire Lord or an ordinary Mad Scientist, the Board of Magic cannot let a magical building stay untended. The castle's Minions have been doing the best they can, but they've just received notice that there will be no more extensions, so they need a master, fast. When twelve year-old Molly shows up at the door claiming to be a Wicked Witch, it seems miraculous. To take ownership, Molly has Tasks to complete, including acts of Smiting and Blighting, and winning the hearts and minds of the townsfolk, "however you like," said Majordomo. "The old Vampire Lord like to keep the hearts in jars in the basement, but he was rather old-fashioned. You could just grind them all underfoot and demand tribute if you like."

Ahh, the characters. Although there are humans in the village, Castle Hangnail is strictly inhabited by the magical, along with three ravens and a roost of bats. There's the very conservative butler guardian Majordomo, an ancient and sewn-together type of man creature who has been with the Castle as long as it has been in existence; the ghostly suit of armor, Edward (of the rusty knees); the Minotaur, Cook, who has an antipathy against the letter 'Q' ever since her husband ran off with an encyclopedia saleswoman; Pins, the tailor and burlap doll, with his sidekick goldfish; and Serenissima, the steamy offspring of a djinn and a mermaid.

"Pins lived in a small room over the laundry with a talking goldfish. The goldfish was intensely nuerotic and convinced that she was always sickening for something. Pins took very tender care of the fish and was currently knitting her a very small waterproof scarf."

Vernon is also an artist, and one of the delights with the print edition is illustrations throughout the text, the small bats in the corner by the page numbers, and the curious way the page background turns black with white text when we come to a night scene. It also gives a hint into Molly's ethnicity, described as "a plump girl with a round face, a stubborn chin, and frizzy brown hair. She was wearing black boots with metal caps on the end." The illustration looks pleasantly multi-ethnic, with a wide nose and shaded skin. Interestingly, the one human we get to know and like the best is a middle-aged black woman with grey hair. Always a pleasure to find inclusive young adult that does not assume white as the character norm.

"'I didn't used to be able to make my clothes invisible too. That was awkward.'
'That was my pastry,' said Majordomo.
She swallowed and grinned at him. 'That's how you know I'm a Wicked Witch.'
Pastry-theft was not on the same level as lightning, but it would have to do for now."

Plotting moves quickly, and while some of it is predictable--Molly will, after all, have to own up to her deception--completing the tasks takes magic, mundane problem- solving, kindness and ultimately, teamwork. There's a great balance between self-reliance and teamwork. Its very much geared to the late grade school/early teen years in how development of confidence and consequence is dealt with. It reminds me of the slightly older-geared Year of the Griffin, a perennial favorite and re-read, and of The Ship Who Circumnavigated... by Valente, without the ornate imagery, and the tongue-in-cheek style of Fly by Night.

One of the interesting things about this story is that the reader is flipped back and forth between Molly's and Majordomo's perspective. It's curious, and definitely two sides of the life spectrum; the pre-teen finding her confidence and the very, very old person confronting a new way of thinking about his world.

I'm not entirely sure Molly is truly on the 'wicked' side of the scale. One of my problems with the story is that it never really confronts that fact that Molly would be considered 'wicked' by many for her deceptions, but instead has to 'prove' herself in other ways. I think the implied message is that one can still be a good person and not be entirely full of sweetness, sparkles and pink bows, and that even occasional naughtiness can be appreciated. It's a great message in the land of Barbie and the enduring fascination with pink Princesses of all brands. It's also a good message for all of us older people that have learned to behave. Highly recommended, and definitely gift-worthy.
Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,752 followers
April 8, 2015
These are dark times for children’s fantasy. Dark times indeed. Which is to say, when I pick up a fantasy novel for kids, more often than not I find the books filled with torture, violence, bloody blood, and other various unpleasant bits and pieces. And honestly? That is fine. There are a lot of kids out there who lap up gore like it was mother’s milk. Still, it’s numbing. Plus I really wish that there was more stuff out there for the younger kiddos. The ones who have entered the wide and wonderful world of children’s fantasy and would rather not read about trees eating people or death by cake. Maybe they’d like something funny with lovable characters and a gripping plot. Even Harry Potter had its dark moments, but in the early volumes the books were definitely for the younger readers. Certainly we have the works of Eva Ibbotson and Ruth Chew, but newer books are always welcome, particularly if they’re funny. Maybe that’s part of the reason why Castle Hangnail blew me away as much as it did. Here we have a story that knows exactly what it is, what it wants to do, and manages to be hilarious and charming all at the same time. If you like your children’s fantasy novels full of psychotic villains and mind-numbing action sequences, seek ye elsewhere. This one’s for the kids.

To some, Castle Hangnail might appear to be a “pathetic rundown little backwater” but to the minions who live there it’s home. A home desperately in need of a new Master and Mistress. After all, if they don’t get someone soon the castle might be sold off and destroyed. Maybe that’s why everyone has such mixed feelings at first when Molly appears. Molly is short and young and wearing some very serious black boots. She looks like a 12-year-old kid and Majordomo, the guardian of the castle, is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that she’s supposed to be their new Wicked Witch. Yet when he gives her the necessary tasks to make Castle Hangnail her own, Molly appears to have a couple tricks up her sleeve. She may have her secrets but everything seems to be okay . . . that is until the REAL master of Castle Hangnail arrives to claim it.

Basically what we have here is Downton Abbey for kids, albeit with significantly more dragon donkeys (and isn’t Majordomo SUCH a Carson?). This raises the question of where precisely this book takes place. Remembering that author Ursula Vernon herself is not actually British, one supposes that the story could be read as a U.S. tale. Due to its distinct Eva Ibbotson flavor, the initial inclination is to see the book as British. Our picturesque little towns pale in comparison to their picturesque little towns, and we’ve far fewer castles lying about the place. Still, there’s no reason it couldn’t be American. After all, I’ve seen many an American author fall into the trap of putting cockney characters into their books for no apparent reason. Vernon has a good head on her shoulders. She’s not falling for that game.

Truly a book like this hinges on the characters created. If you don’t believe in them or don’t like them then you won’t want us to follow them into your tale. You have to sympathize with Majordomo, even when he does some unfortunate things. You have to like Molly, even when you don’t initially understand her back-story. It takes a little while but Vernon also makes it clear how someone can be wicked as opposed to evil. “Wicked was turning somebody into an earwig and letting them run around for a week to give them a good scare. Evil was turning someone into an earwig and then stepping on them.” An evil heroine is tricky to love. A wicked one is on par with your average 12-year-old reader.

Speaking of characters, Vernon makes some very interesting narrative choices as well. For example, our heroine is introduced to us for the first time on page six. However around Chapter 33 she disappears from the storyline and really doesn’t appear again until Chapter 39. You have to have a very strong supporting cast to get away with that one. It would be a lot of fun to ask kid readers who their favorite character was. Did they prefer Pins or his neurotic goldfish? The minotaurs or the moles? Me, I like ‘em all. The whole kooky gang. For a certain kind of reader, there’s going to be a lot of allure to having minions as lovable as these.

Even the lightest bit of middle grade fluff needs a strong emotional core to keep it grounded. If there’s nothing to care for then there’s nothing to root for. For me, the heart of this particular tale lies in Molly’s relationship with the evil sorceress (and teenaged) Eudaimonia. Lots of kids have the experience of wanting to befriend someone older and meaner. The desire to please can lead a person to act unlike themselves. As Molly says, “It’s like a weird kind of magic . . . Like a spell that makes you feel like it’s all your fault.” Molly also wrestles with being different from her kittens and sparkles loving twin and so the theme of finding yourself and your own talents come to the fore.

And now a word in praise of humor. Funny is hard. Funny fantasy? That’s even harder. Vernon has always blown away the competition in the hilarity department. Pick up any “Danny Dragonbreath” comic and you’ll see what I’m talking about. She can sustain a narrative for an early chapter book, sure, but full-blown novels are a different kettle of fish (is that a mixed metaphor?). So how does she do? You’d swear she’d been churning these puppies out for years. Here are three of my favorite lines in celebration:

- “Harrow was one of those people who is born mean and continues to lose ground.”

- “Magic was a requirement in a new Master, unless you were a Mad Scientist, and Molly didn’t look like the sort to hook lightning rods up to cadavers while wild Theremins wailed in the background.”

- “For there are very powerful spells that are very simple, but unless you happen to be the right sort of person, they will not work at all. (And a good thing too. You can raise the dead with five words and a hen’s egg, but natural Necromancers are very rare. Fortunately they tend to be solemn, responsible people, which is why we are not all up to our elbows in zombies).”

Parents wander into the children’s room of a library. They ask the librarian at the desk to recommend a fantasy novel for their 8-year-old. “Nothing too scary”, they say. “Maybe something funny. Do you have anything funny?” Until now the librarian might try a little Ibbotson or a touch of E.D. Baker. Perhaps a smattering of Jessica Day George would do. Still, of all of these Castle Hangnail appeals to the youngest crowd. At the same time, it can be equally enjoyed by older kids too. Smart and droll, it’s the fantasy you’ve always wanted to hand to the 10-year-old Goth girl in your life (along with, let's face it, everybody else you know). A true crowd pleaser.
Profile Image for Lois Bujold.
Author 185 books37.7k followers
June 17, 2016
Fun fantasy kids' book; the denizens of a crumbling castle under threat of being magically decommissioned are surprised when their replacement wicked witch turns out to be a 12-year-old girl, five feet tall and very determined. Hijinks ensue.

The interesting train of thought this one started in me was about women's quests, and how they differ from men's quests. With the usual romance elements of such a story tossed out, the protagonist being twelve, the other essential parts of the pattern come into much better focus, and it becomes clear that the goal of a woman's quest/coming-of-age-tale is, exogamically, a House Of One's Own. In prior eras, the only way to a house was through a guy; happily, this is less the case today. Food for thought, and I rec the book as data for those working on female counter-Joseph-Campbell theories. Campbell is fun, but the bits of him I've read do seem to systematically and rather emphatically leave out half the human race in his quest for "universal" patterns.

Ta, L. Now thinking about male bower birds. And female bower birds, for that matter.
Profile Image for Thibault Busschots.
Author 3 books46 followers
April 4, 2023
The minions of Castle Hangnail are desperate to find a new evil master. Or else they’ll need to start looking for a new home. So when Molly comes knocking on their door, they’re quick to invite her in. She’s quite younger, smaller and nicer than the minions would expect their new evil master to be. But Molly assures the minions that she’s a wicked witch, so she’s given temporary control of the castle. The minions remain quite suspicious of her though, and they’re right to. Molly isn’t who she claims to be. She barely knows any magic whatsoever. And she doesn’t exactly qualify as an evil person either. But if she wants to stay in the castle, she’ll have to step up to the plate and prove her evil worth.

It’s a solid quest-based kind of plot. To become the true master of the castle, Molly has a whole list of things she needs to do, to prove herself. And she does so very much in her own clever and charming way. Like for example, she needs to defend the castle. So she has the walking armored suit defend the herb garden from the invading weeds. Not exactly what the minions expected her to do, but they can’t deny that she accomplished the required task in some way. The plot is for a big part basically the witty and hilarious TV show Taskmaster, but for children. Not all tasks are quite so easy to check off though. And with her lack of magical knowledge, lack of funds and a secret to keep, Molly manages to get herself into trouble more than once.

But the real heart of the story is the way the characters eventually come together to protect their home. It’s a story about friendship, bullying and most importantly: standing up for your friends when they need you the most. It’s actually quite fascinating how seemingly effortless all these different characters manage to establish themselves in a very short amount of time. It’s not just the protagonist, even all the side characters leap from the pages. From the charming guardian of the castle, to the minotaur cook and the donkey who can turn into a dragon. It’s just hard not to be charmed by the various minions. And it’s even harder not to root for the protagonist Molly in her struggle to become the master of Castle Hangnail.

Overall, this gets an easy five stars from me. I’d absolutely love to see this made into an animated movie. It’s charming, entertaining and simply fun from start to finish.
Profile Image for heidi.
315 reviews56 followers
April 21, 2015
I have always enjoyed the way that Terry Pratchett books can be enjoyed on many levels. On the surface, they are... cute. There's no other way to describe it. But dig just a tiny bit deeper and there is a world of intelligent commentary -- not HIDDEN from the mid-grade reader, just not bludgeoning them with "morality" or "ethics".

Vernon has accomplished the same trick with Castle Hangnail. On the first-level, it's a story about a little witch, a little castle, a little list of tasks to be accomplished. Molly is short and maybe a little pudgy, with fuzzy brown hair and brown eyes and decided opinions about gardening, food, and not wanting to be the Good Twin. She wants to be a Wicked Witch, but not an EVIL Witch, and she has a kind streak a mile wide, which is not at all the same thing as being Nice, or even Good. I feel like it's a loving nod at who Granny Weatherwax might have started out as, without being tediously derivative. Molly is herself.

I just handed this book to my 12 year old, who squealed and said, "YAY NEW URSULA." I'll append his review, but so far he has forgotten he has an open bag of Cheezits by his hand -- too busy reading.

On another level, Molly has a lot of grown-up problems. She is battling to be recognized as competent at her job, because she doesn't look like what people expect. She has impostor syndrome, and is pretty sure she is not qualified, even though she is managing all her tasks competently. And then there is the abusive friendship she has been in, where someone older and more powerful than she is has made her feel weak and powerless, and somehow to blame for that. I'm not saying a 12 year old will say, "hey, I'm in an abusive friendship", but I hope that sometime in their lives they will think of Molly saying "no!" and firmly stopping someone from making her feel bad. That would be a beautiful outcome.

I loved Molly, of course, in her kindness and flailing and willingness to really work at a problem. I also loved the Majordomo who has his own relationship traumas and angers to overcome. The supporting cast was all lovely and warm and individual, even Dragon the Donkey and the non-speaking characters. It was very much a story about community and mutuality.

The writing was wry and funny without being inaccessible for moderate readers. The illustrations, as one expects, are charming and just faintly creepy. The book as a whole is just.... lovely, and it makes me happy to have read it and happy to give it to my kids.

Read if: You like spunky, practical heroines. You are not on a medical regimen that prevents giggling.

Skip if: You are allergic to girl power or the thought that 12 year olds can change small parts of the world.

Also read: The Tiffany Aching books in the Discworld series.
Profile Image for Melki.
5,801 reviews2,342 followers
November 21, 2021
A twelve-year-old "Wicked Witch" becomes mistress of a castle peopled with all manner of quirky minions. But . . . it's tough out there for a caretaker, as Molly soon learns. Before long she's conversing with bats and moles, and turning donkeys into dragons, all while pulling weeds, and finding money for a major plumbing project. (Homeownership ain't for sissies, kiddos!)

This is a fun, fantastical tale for middle-grade readers, or anyone else who wishes J.K. Rowling had written a magical series starring a GIRL .
Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,126 reviews104 followers
September 28, 2018
Now first and foremost, Ursula Vernon's Castle Hangnail is simply entertainingly humorous with mild, generally very much palatable creepiness and presenting, featuring a sweetly appealing (if not lovable) young heroine, as well as delightfully showing the uplifting message that one can accomplish one's desired goals even if one might not necessarily be the so-called perfect fit (such as in Castle Hangnail with Molly trying to fit into her role as the new wicked witch of the castle and finally realising that she just needs to be herself, that being wicked is not the same as being evil, that she can actually and even be kindly compassionate without having to be a boringly and tediously mundanely goody goody two-shoes). And indeed, and furthermore, while I have definitely very much enjoyed the humour and often deliciously uncanny hilarity of much of Castle Hangnail, as an adult reader, I also definitely appreciate and cheer the fact that Ursula Vernon does not shy away from demonstrating that especially young Molly seems to have some seriously heavy (dare I say grown-up) issues on her proverbial plate so to speak (that Molly constantly feels she is an imposter, that she has had to deal with rather massive amounts of what can only be labelled as bullying, of being constantly imposed upon and denigrated by her nearest and supposedly dearest, and that at present, she is in the process of learning how to deal with such types of issues and demands with a firm and decisive NO, no matter how difficult and painful that may be). A solid and yes also warmly recommended three star novel is Castle Hangnail (and the only reason why I am not quite ready to grant four stars is that personally, and I do realise that I seem to be rather the minority here, I have found Ursula Vernon's writing style, while indeed mostly fun and engagingly wry, also at times rather artificial and to and for me as simply trying to darn hard to be funny).
Profile Image for Anna.
250 reviews97 followers
February 20, 2023
Castle Hangnail needs a Master, or it will be decommissioned. Enter Molly, the wicked witch. She is twelve, 5 feet tall, and not at all what they have been expecting. She isn't very good at being wicked, much better at saving donkeys, talking to bats and moles and getting rid of nasty people. But she completes the Tasks, including committing at least one (1) act of smiting and three (3) acts of blighting. She wins the hearts and minds of the townsfolk, her minions at the castle (the guardian, two minotaurs, an animated doll, a steam sprite and a rheumatic armour) and yours truly.

You’re the Wicked Witch?” said the guardian.
“Yes?” said Molly. She fingered her vulture necklace nervously.
“Are... are you sure?”
“Oh, quite sure.”
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 31 books5,632 followers
July 29, 2020
This. Was. Adorable.

This played off all the tropes of wicked witches and mad scientists and spooky haunted castles. There were minions, and walking and talking suits of armor, minotaurs, and bats! Spellbooks, and magical duels, magic wands, and even mole wizards. Not to mention Molly, a Bad Twin and Wicked Witch, even if she is just a little bit young . . .
Profile Image for Courtney.
740 reviews157 followers
January 8, 2016
After sitting, master-less, for several years Castle Hangnail is being threatened with decommissioning. At their wits end, the castles' minions have sent out invitations to every wicked witch, sorceress and mad scientist they could find, to no avail. Until finally, one day the head minion opens the door to find a 12-year-old girl on their doorstep... self-proclaimed 'wicked witch' and evil-twin, Molly.

At least her boots look properly wicked.


This story is pretty solid, plot-wise. With as many funny moments as there are action-filled scenes, it's sure to keep the attention of it's readers. The plot also presents an important lesson for children on bullies and friendship which, while not subtle in it's presentation, is written in a way that makes it not only integral to the story but still leaves the story interesting to readers.

The character of Molly was adorable, and you can easily empathize with her and want to cheer her on as she goes about trying to earn her mastery of Castle Hangnail (as well as sympathize with her in regards to her past as an 'evil-twin' to a nauseatingly sweet 'good-twin').
The rest of the cast is quite likeable as well, with their own quirks and personalities. Every character is fairly well-developed, from Majordomo, the igor-type of head minion and his memories of masters past to Pins (a cloth poppet) who acts as the castle tailor.

Readers will cheer Molly on in her 'quest' to gain her castle, even as she commits her most 'wicked' of deeds: turning a farmer's donkey into a dragon with the intent of giving the man a good scare (after she becomes aware of his mistreatment of his animals).
Profile Image for Cheryl.
9,318 reviews399 followers
March 7, 2019
Um, first let me say the blurb is ridiculous. I don't know who Tom Angleburger is, and I would if he were a relevant comparison. Roald Dahl is a whole 'nother vibe, except maybe for The BFG. A better comparison would be to Eva Ibbotson in that the emphasis is on kindness and respect for all creatures in a magical setting with plenty of adventure & humor.

On its own merits, this is enchanting. Molly is a wonderful person, very real. The world-building and all the supporting cast are rich, interesting, and original. The themes & morals are pretty light, suitable for fans of family animation movies, but still worth discussing if the whole family reads this together.

And I do recommend you read it together. I had trouble getting up for any housework and instead read it in one mesmerized afternoon.

I'm not raving it as a must-read, mind, but I am def. rounding up to 4 full stars and recommending it to all who are considering it.
Profile Image for Cyndi.
2,338 reviews97 followers
June 10, 2017
This book was absolutely adorable! 12 year old Molly arrives at Castle Hangnail to be their Wicked Witch. When you're a little girl who doesn't fit in with pink and puppies, accepting an invitation to be the mistress of a castle seems like a good idea. Never mind that her parents think she is at summer camp. She has to save the castle!
This is a very entertaining middle school read. Molly successfully uses her wits to save the day.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,339 reviews1,632 followers
December 7, 2022
This was a recommendation from a friend who said it was cute, so I snagged it from the library, while simultaneously buying it for my 8 year old nephew. (Yeah, I know. He's 8 already and I CANNOT EVEN.)

This is my second book by this author, though my first was actually under her pseudonym T. Kingfisher and was quite different. There's not really any comparison between them as this one is for younger, mid-grade readers and The Hollow Places was adult. Though I did find at times that The Hollow Places felt like it was written by a YA writer, so maybe that's a thing I could mention. It didn't really negatively impact anything though, it was just an impression I had. (Rightly, it turns out.)

But this being a book for younger readers, it felt like it, and it was enjoyable for it. It was simple, and direct, and cute, and met all of the Chekhov's gun principles, and was just a fun little story.

My only gripe(s) is that the worldbuilding could have been a bit better established, in that I never really understood if magic and monsters and all of that existed openly in society, or if it was a sort of sub-culture just outside of non-magical perception. I also really wanted a bit more closure with the resolution of the story, but that's minor. It's implied, but I know that my younger self would have wanted a firmer end. (Just like my current, old self does whenever she looks in the mirror. :P)

ANYWAY, back to this children's book - I liked it well enough and thought it was cute with cute illustrations and though I have yet to hear what the Neff thought of it, I think he would probably like it. So 3 stars.
Profile Image for Kathrin Passig.
Author 49 books394 followers
December 30, 2022
Eigentlich hat es vier Sterne verdient und sie nur nicht bekommen, weil ich nicht mehr zehn bin. Es ist eine niedliche Geschichte, in der alles mit nur sehr kleinen Umwegen gut ausgeht. Eine feuerspeiende Fledermaus kommt vor.

Update, ich hab noch mal drüber nachgedacht, vier Sterne.
195 reviews113 followers
October 8, 2018
Do you miss Eva Ibbotson? Do you weep softly into your handkerchief that she has died and we will never have another one of her books? Do you want to love Eva Ibbotson but she hates fat people too much? BOY DO I HAVE A BOOK REC FOR YOU.

(Castle Hangnail is so cute (but not saccharine!) that I’m going to write the summary in short declarative sentences. If I try to make you read longer sentences about Castle Hangnail‘s plot, the adorability will be too much for you and you will die in the middle.)

Castle Hangnail and its minions desperately need a new master. If they don’t get one, the castle will be decommissioned. Twelve-year-old Molly shows up to be their master. She’s a Wicked Witch! (Sort of.) The minions are dubious. Molly sets about trying to meet the requirements of a castle master. There is also a foe to conquer.

(Really, Jenny? You say you’re going to use short declarative sentences but you can’t get through a paragraph without an if/then construction? No wonder WordPress always gives you a frowny face for readability.)

Much as Eva Ibbotson’s middle grade fantasies, Castle Hangnail has a cast of dear, adorable, strange characters. All the denizens of Castle Hangnail, whom Molly quickly comes to love because nobody could not love them, are absolute cinnamon rolls. Here’s the description that killed me stone dead, of a minion who is not exactly a voodoo doll but sort of (maybe):

Pins lived in a small room over the laundry with a talking goldfish. The goldfish was intensely neurotic and convinced that she was always sickening for something. Pins took very tender care of the fish and was currently knitting her a very small waterproof scarf.


Castle Hangnail strikes me as the kind of book I would have (loved to have) read at age seven, kept through the years as it became steadily more and more battered, and realized as an adult contained a lot more emotional insight and wisdom than I had realized as a child. It’s the perfect marriage of Eva Ibbotson quirk and charm and Diana Wynne Jones insight. And I’m going to make a controversial statement here: I loved Castle Hangnail better than I loved The Worst Witch and Island of the Aunts, my two favorites of Eva Ibbotson’s middle-grade fantasies. YES I DID.

This hasn’t been much of a review, but I feel like that description of Pins and his goldfish is the perfect encapsulation of what this book is. If you liked it, you’ll like Castle Hangnail. If you didn’t, I am confused by you as a person. Castle Hangnail is the adorable, middle-grade antidote to everything that’s wrong with the world. Please buy it and read it as soon as possible.

(PS: Legal Sister bought this for me as a present at WorldCon! Which was so sweet. But even sweeter is that she ran into Ursula Vernon while buying it, and Ursula Vernon signed it for me and wrote “Minions rule!” What a gem. I will treasure it always.)

(this review was posted first at http://readingtheend.com/)
Profile Image for Kathryn.
4,249 reviews
November 17, 2016

"It was a marvelously dark and dour twilight at the castle. Clouds the color of bruises lay across the hills [...] The castle guardian was pleased. Sadly, Castle Hangnail was not surrounded by jagged mountains, which would have been ideal, but you couldn't have everything. The grassy hills around the castle were doing their best impression of a blasted moor. The guardian tried not to notice the dandelions growing on the hillside. They were much too cheerful. He would have a word with the gardener tomorrow. [...] The ravens assured him that a new Master or Mistress of the castle would arrive tonight. [...] an Evil Wizard, now... well, there was a lot to be said for an Evil Wizard. Or a witch. A Wicked Witch would be just fine. Perhaps she'd even have a cat. The guardian was fond of cats."

I loved this book from the opening pages. It's just pitch-perfect. I just felt so perfectly immersed in the world, in the characters, in the mood of the story. It's conversational and confidential without being irritating, I felt like we were old friends at once. Molly is an endearing protagonist (who must nevertheless learn and grow) and the minions all lend something special and valuable to the story while maintaining separate and engaging personalities. I found myself surprised at a few twists the story took and I also appreciated how earlier elements came into play in the climax. I especially appreciated the message about not letting others control you, or make you feel powerless, that you should take care not to belittle yourself when really you might not be the one with the problem in the relationship. I can't say too much without giving major plot points away but I feel it's a very valuable lesson and that it was wisely and beautifully handled here, without being heavy-handed.

I probably would have given this five stars but the ending disappointed me. The primary conflict resolution was just fine, but the last chapter left me a little disenchanted. I wanted more honesty and I really wish one of the situations had been handled differently. I suppose it could be a discussion point for parents reading with their children. Sigh. Otherwise, I think of the book with complete affection and highly recommend it. It's a great read around Halloween, too, as it has a few very mild creepy/spooky elements but it's mostly just charming and humorous and utterly winsome!
Profile Image for The Captain.
1,073 reviews373 followers
October 26, 2020
Ahoy there me mateys!  I learned about Ursula Vernon through her work under the pseudonym T. Kingfisher.  I was surprised to find that she has a lot of work written for children published under her "real" name.  As she says,
In order to never again have that horrific experience where I find myself running in slow motion across a library crying “Noooooooooo…!” as the well-meaning librarian hands a seven-year-old boy a copy of The One Book With The Torture Scene, I write for adults these days under the pen-name T. Kingfisher. It’s just easier for everybody, particularly for my nerves.

This does mean that some short stories previously published as Ursula Vernon will pop up in T. Kingfisher anthologies. It’s cool. I’m not plagiarizing me, I swear.

After reading two of her Kingfisher books, I then heard about this book from Matey Molly @ silverbuttonbooks.  It features a 12 year-old girl (also named Molly) who wants to become the wicked witch of Castle Hangnail.  I had been wondering what Vernon's writing was like and thought that this sounded like an excellent October / Halloween book.  And it was!!

This book is whimsical and fantastic and wonderful.  Castle Hangnail has seen better days.  The minions of the castle need to fill the position of Master soon or the castle will be decommissioned and they will lose their home and jobs.  Will they get a nasty Vampire or an Evil Sorceress perhaps?  They are certainly not expecting Molly who is both young and seemingly too nice.  Can she be wicked enough and complete the Tasks and officially become a Master?

Seriously the characters in this one are a pure delight.  From the Cook who hates the letter 'Q' to the bats in the tower to the hypochondriac pet goldfish, I loved them all.  And I also loved Molly.  This story is a lovely one with a found family, a particular idea of what it means to be wicked, and a plot that keeps ye guessing through the very end.  I was grinning like a maniac by the end and avidly wishing for more tales about Molly and Castle Hangnail's crew.  This a story for all ages that certainly softened me crusty salty heart.  I encourage everyone to read this book no matter yer age or the time of the year.  Arrrr!
Profile Image for Mary Catelli.
Author 52 books171 followers
April 4, 2016
I stayed up entirely too late reading this book.

The minions of the title castle is eager to greet the new Master. After all, the Board has already given a pile of extensions and has indicated there will be no more, but the ravens have said the new master is finally coming.

Turns out she's rather small. And young. But Molly can make herself invisible and is ready to tackle the tasks to become the Master. And has the invitation. (Which, we, but not the minions, soon learn, she took.) She meets the minions. Besides the guardian, there is Edward, the animated suit of armor; Cook and her son Angus, both Minotaurs; Pins, an animated stuffed figure; the goldfish; and Serenissima, the steam offspring of a djinn and a woman with just a drop of mermaid blood. And it's a small rather rundown castle with, fortunately, a library where she can hunt for spellbooks to pull off her stunt.

It involves altering a spell from targeting a cow to a donkey, weeding a garden, talking to bats and moles, someone being caught in a block of ice, a tower no longer belonging to the castle, putting a sea serpent in the moat, worms, and much more. It manages to be very funny -- at one point, someone is vengefully baking scones -- and very dramatic.
Profile Image for Benjamin Appleby-Dean.
Author 4 books50 followers
June 14, 2018
Ursula Vernon (who also writes as T Kingfisher) has one of my favourite voices in current fantasy - she's charming without being trite, inventive without feeling contrived, and funny in a way that never overwhelms her storytelling.

In Castle Hangnail, she brings us the tale of the inhabitants of a monster-haunted fortress waiting for their new Mistress, and discovering that she turns out to be a twelve-year-old girl. The tone of the place is pitched perfectly between sinister and sympathetic - the characters are believably monstrous but never malicious, and the real villains of the piece are ordinary people who mistreat their animals or swindle their neighbours (and undoubtedly deserve what then happens to them).

The result is a brilliant, subversive tale for any children who prefer haunted castles to fairytale palaces.

(I was very definitely one of those children)
Profile Image for Artemis Crescent.
870 reviews
March 31, 2022
2022 EDIT: As good and charming a children's book as ever.

Final Score: 3.5/5

Original Review:

Welcome to Hotel Transylvan-er, I mean Castle Hangnail! It welcomes you, creaky doors and broken staircases and all.

A children's haunted castle parody, with hilarious, cartoony touches like in 'Witch Wars', except containing more nuance and character development. It's also like 'Isadora Moon' in that it embraces both light and darkness and the complex nature of everyone.

'Castle Hangnail' is a fun, cute, heartwarming book that can be gloomy and spooky but never scary, even for kids. There are such memorable characters: Molly Utterback, the twelve-year-old "Wicked Witch" and new owner of Castle Hangnail (or so she says), who is the "bad twin" to an apparently sickeningly-sweet, girly, pink princess twin; the stitched-up, hunchback Igor-figure whom Molly names Majordomo, an initially-distrusting minion of Castle Hangnail who is so used to abuse, dismemberment and lightning rod shocks from his previous Masters that the thing that shocks him regarding Molly, apart from her age, is how considerate and charming she is; Pins the walking, talking burlap sack who is a tailor; Serenissima, a half djinn/half mermaid, resulting in a woman made of steam and vapour; Edward the chivalrous, talking, clanking armour with the purest heart of gold; Cook the Minotaur and her son, Angus; Miss Handlebram, the dark-skinned neighbour of Castle Hangnail and the sweetest, most caring gardener; a donkey that turns into a dragon (why do I get the feeling that Dreamworks would love to make a movie out of this?), thanks to Molly, in order to be freed from an abusive farmer; and a goldfish. The goldfish, Pins's best friend, is a hypochondriac who later on becomes my favourite character. She is actually very brave, and she embodies the cartoony silliness of the book the most fondly.

There are also bats, moles, townspeople, and a host of other odd and whimsical types that Molly interacts with as the unofficial owner of Castle Hangnail. The story is, strangely enough, unimportant as we get to know these creative, awesome characters. 'Castle Hangnail' sets up and explores the difference between being Wicked and being Evil, in terms of the use of power, and how a Wicked Master treats their minions would be nonetheless preferable to how an Evil Master treats them.

The minions of Castle Hangnail are in fact really nice people. So nice that it's sad and, if you think about it, horrifying in light of how they were expected to serve under their previous, devious Masters. Someone like Molly, a witch wanting to learn all the spells she can, plus own her own place and run her life free of others' expectations, and would never think to torture and be mean to anyone (she scares and pranks those who deserve it, who need to learn a lesson), is what they desperately need.

Just because they live in an old, creepy castle doesn't mean they have to conform to conventional expectations and stereotypes. Cleanliness, niceness, generosity and learning with the times can get you far in life. It is a good message for kids.

'Castle Hangnail' is not all fantasy fun with a wholesome moral in the end, however. There is the theme of the mechanics of abuse, i.e. how it works. As well as Majordomo having grown used to life as a tortured, nameless minion, and the animal cruelty inflicted on Dragon the donkey, Molly has had a friend in the past who was nasty to her, who belittled her, who patronised her, and who kept her from reaching her potential as a witch in more ways than one; literally draining her. All the while the "friend" pretended to care about Molly, telling her that what she says and does is for her own good, and that Molly is too weak a witch and will never be better than the older witch. Or Sorceress. The Evil Sorceress. It takes young Molly a long time to realise that the fault is not her own - it never has been - and through the minions of Castle Hangnail she discovers what true friends are.

I don't think I've read a children's book before that directly tackled the subject of abusive friendships - abusive families, yes, abusive romantic relationships to a much lesser degree. But harmful friendships is also a very important issue to let children be aware of; that they can leave unpleasant and toxic people, no matter the pressure to remain. Molly Utterback grows and changes as a character throughout 'Castle Hangnail' via persistence, and believing in herself, away from her Sorceress "friend".

The book misses a star because I thought there could have been a lot more to the climactic ending, which wraps everything up a bit too nicely and conveniently. Problems such as plumbing and paying to have the boiler and pipes at Castle Hangnail fixed are dealt with slowly overtime and are handled as realistically as a children's fantasy can. However, other problems, such as getting rid of a greedy, criminal real estate agent, are solved too quickly and easily. Not every character has more than one dimension to them. And of course the time when the inhabitants of the Castle find out that Molly is not who she says she is does come, and I dislike Majordomo intensely for how he treats her afterwards. I mean, so what if she lied? She's meant to be Wicked, after all. She hasn't hurt anyone. What about all the good she's done? That adds up to nothing now? She even gave Majordomo his name when no other Master did! No one seems to remember that detail. At least the other minions are sympathetic to Molly.

Some clichés aside, I enjoyed 'Castle Hangnail'. I adored learning magic with Molly, whom I could see myself in a myriad of ways, as a lover of the witchy and gothic who at the same time is pretty girly and whimsy, holding kindness and caring for others as my top virtues. I adored being with these funny, sweet yet kind of tragic characters. The book contains strong, important messages without talking down to the reader. It's like a junior edition of 'Wicked' the musical, jovial in its ooky, spooky cast and homely setting, to be consumed relaxing on a couch, drinking a cup of tea.

Final Score: 3.5/5
Profile Image for Jan Agaton.
690 reviews405 followers
September 24, 2022
LOVED BUGBANE THE TALKING BAT 🦇😍 this was super cute and wholesomely spooky! i just personally didnt like the overall premise/objective of the story being saving this castle and revolving around money and such. the audiobook also reminded me too much of The House in the Cerulean Sea, which i was not a fan of. i dont read too many middle grades, but i did enjoy this one for the most part.
Profile Image for Sam.
2,095 reviews32 followers
March 25, 2015
Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

I'll be honest, Castle Hangnail was a situation where I may have judged a book by its cover. Honestly, it didn't appeal to me, didn't speak to me, until one day I felt possessed to pick it up and start reading.

I was hooked from the first page.

On my long commute home from test one of three during this week, I was happy that Castle Hangnail had kept me company through the traffic jam. Being trapped on a bus without a book is my worst nightmare, and having it allowed me to devour a large chunk of the book on the way home. Castle Hangnail is a very engrossing middle grade read with a lot of subtle humour and a cast of wonderfully out there characters. Molly is just so sweet, yet by the end of the book you understand why she's the "wicked twin," Majordomo just made me laugh because he has his own self conflict with master and servitude that is written SO CLEVERLY. It's fun to watch him assert dominance and then all of a sudden backtrack because, wait, he's a servant.

There's just something addicting about the way in which Castle Hangnail is written. It's vivid, animated, and even the artwork within the book is well paced and appropriate to the plot. When the book attempts to share tough issues with the readers, it's easy stuff that anyone can relate to and it does it very matter-of-factly which I liked. If anything, the only downside of Castle Hangnail might have been how easy the resolve was, yet it worked for the story. I loved the ending itself, which I won't spoil, but lets just say it made me laugh.

Castle Hangnail cast a spell on me, and I don't regret reading it. This is one of those middle grade novels that may look a bit childish on the outside, but it's a lot richer on the inside. Vernon balances humour and realistic issues while still writing a fun story on top of it. This is one of those middle grade reads that would especially be great around Halloween, though really it's themes and ideas are so universal that anyone, at any time, can simply pick the book up and enjoy it.
Profile Image for Jannah A.
897 reviews52 followers
April 23, 2016
When I found this in my recommendations and read the blurb I squealed inside because this is exactly the kind of book that fulfills the need of my inner child. I got an ebook copy STRAIGHT AWAY and now Im going to read it STRAIGHT AWAY at 4.16am in the morning because it is worthy of some neglect in the brain cell area. Apologies to those who are under the impression that I'm an aspiring adult.
Finally finished. Was even better than my expectations.

Castle Hangnail is in trouble. The Board of Magic has given them their last chance to find a Master for the castle, and if the minions fail, the castle will be demagicked and dispossessed.

12 year old Molly arrives with a sealed letter of invitation, claiming to be a Wicked Witch who will take ownership of the castle. The guardian or Majordomo, as Molly promptly names him, is not so sure. He has very definite ideas about how Masters should behave and Molly doesn't fit. Molly shouldn't fit truth be told, because she never attended Witch School nor was the invitation for herself. But she is a witch and that helps her get a foot in.

Though Molly seems quite unlike the Evil Sorceress or Wicked Witch to be expected, she slowly proves herself by completing the tasks set out by the board. She manages to win over the minions and the surrounding village in her own unique way (turning Donkeys into dragons, making magical rites with moles and defeating nefarious and dastardly estate agents to name a few).

However she hasn't counted for the fact that her secret will be found out and the real Evil Sorceress is on her way to lay claim on the castle.
Its a race for time, to see the minions find where their loyalties lie and Molly gain faith in her powers.

Molly is the perfect spunky young heroine to match the quirky minions (Majordomo the ghoul butler, Pins the rag doll with amazing dressmaking skills, his neurotic goldfish, the minotaurs - Cook and her son Angus and Sir Edward the suit of armour with rusty knees) who keep Castle Hangnail looking the part.

Lots of humor and magical fun. A mix of Terry Pratchett, Kaye Umansky and Eva Ibbotson.
It mainly reminds me a little of Terry Pratchetts Tiffany Aching/Witches series though aimed at a younger audience.

My ebook copy is a pretty big file size due to the large illustrations added. I personally felt they were unnecessary and quite simple, though children may appreciate them. Personally if the artist had a distinct, more creative style, it would have been worthwhile.

Overall a great story which kids with a love of magic and humor will love and older ages will definitely appreciate too.

Was it worth spending the wee hours of the am while my eyes felt sandbagged and like the light was out to get me? Why yes it was. Don't have work tomorrow. SLEEPING IN AHAHAH.
Profile Image for Cassandra.
Author 113 books1,461 followers
June 22, 2017
I bought this book late last night and I finished it earlier this morning, dreaming of Molly and her minions, the whole time.

This book.


Ursula Vernon is a gifted author, humorous and kind, yet capable of chilling one's spine with but a line or six. Her short fiction is mesmerizing. Sometimes, beautiful meditations of the small moments in life. Sometimes, a thing so rich in shadow that you can't help but shiver a little. And her books for grown-ups?


For some reason, despite being fully aware of their existence, I've never once thought to pick up her children/MG works. Why? No idea. No weird prejudice here. But late last night, I rectified the situation, and all I can is:


Castle Hangnail is warm as the glow of a fireplace, rich as a bowl of good soup. It wraps around you, the story does, and it is filigreed with Vernon's usual gift for prose. Modified, of course, to accommodate a younger audience, but no less elegant and deft.

The book opens with a Minion surveying the land around Castle Hangnail, doggedly proud of a property that, despite its best efforts, comes across as a little bit charming. A Master will fix this, the Minion decides. And lo, a Master does show up.

Except she's twelve.
And she has frizzy hair.
And she's actually named Molly.

Hijinks follow as Molly works to fulfill the list of Tasks that she has been given, objectives that involve Smiting and Blighting and securing the castle's defenses. How she accomplishes these requirements, though. Well.


I won't spoil it for you. But this is a kind book, rich with hope and love; it is a world of friends trying to do better by each other, of small wonders, of beauty in mundane places; it is a place of laughter, but also a place where a girl learns that not all friendships are equal.

Right now, Castle Hangnail is everything I'd needed from these few weeks.

And it might well be everything you've been waiting for too.
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews656 followers
September 14, 2016
Recently, it feels like I have read a number of very good books that have nonetheless been a little heavy, and another bunch of books that have been frustrating. It's been a while since I read something that was just thoroughly delightful in almost every way. So I am delighted to report that as a young adult fantasy novel (or perhaps even younger), Castle Hangnail was so much fun to read from beginning to end.

Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Rachel (Kalanadi).
722 reviews1,402 followers
May 15, 2015
I want to be 12 years old with a wee talking bat hanging off my ear, gently snoring. This is an excellent middle grade book about the importance of loving and caring for others, the difference between being wicked and really evil, and recognizing bad friends you should drop like a rock. Also, gardening. Mint DOES take over like a weed.
Profile Image for Mikhail.
Author 1 book29 followers
June 8, 2021
*Page 1* "Well, it's by Ursula Vernon, so it should be fun even if it's a kid's book."

*Page 50* "Man this is fun!"

*Page 150* *Feverish reading to find out what happens next*

*Last Page* "Wow... I mean... yes."
Profile Image for Jvermeersch.
874 reviews20 followers
April 29, 2023
I loved this one. Clearly a children's book, yet I would recommend it both to children and adults.
Immensely well-written.
I liked all characters thanks to their unique and creative features. Liked the dynamics between them. Liked the flow of the dialogues. Particularly liked the warm, feelgood atmosphere in every chapter. Lovely illustrations. Liked the Tasks (which reminded me of another good children's classic, Koning van Katoren). Liked how little witch Molly demonstrates better constructive and collaborative problem-solving skills than most professionals I know. Even appreciated the typical chapter length. Very much enjoyed the complication that came in the second half. And loved how so many elements unexpectedly came together in the finale with lots of humour. For once my default resting bitch reading face was even replaced by a smiling reading face. Not many books happen to achieve that.
Looking forward to reread or read this one to my daughter in a few years.
Profile Image for Matthew Galloway.
1,021 reviews30 followers
September 4, 2018
There’s really not much more to say than, “I want more!” It’s the best kind of kid’s book where it’s fun and funny, yet sweet and heartfelt and addresses important lessons in life. For instance, I think even most adults still need to learn the lesson about what a real friend is like...
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