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NPR Arts & Life

'A Castle In The Clouds' Is A Grand Hotel Romp

As soon as I opened to the title page of A Castle in the Clouds, something seemed familiar. I saw Romy Fursland's translator credit, and then flipped back to Kerstin Gier's bio. She was indeed the German author of the fabulous Ruby Red trilogy, books I read many years ago. While A Castle in the Clouds is far more of a cozy mystery than a sweeping historical fantasy like the Ruby Red series, its precocious main character and huge, quirky supporting cast make this new novel just as enjoyable.

17-year-old high school dropout Sophie Spark is working a year-long internship at a picturesque hotel high in the Swiss Alps known as Castle in the Clouds. The grand hotel doesn't usually host many children, but this year, over the Christmas holiday, there is such a large population that Sophie must take on babysitting in addition to her regular duties. While watching two of her young charges, Sophie slides down a hill and comes to a stop in the middle of the road, narrowly missing being hit by Ben Montfort, son of Gordon Montfort, who owns the hotel along with his brother, Gilbert.

Ben is merely the first of the major hotel staff to be introduced. There's also Parvel, operatic baritone and chief of the laundry room; Fräulein Müller, stern head of housekeeping, Pierre, the friendly French junior chef; Old Stucky, in charge of the horses; Hortensia and the rest of the mean girl chambermaids; the Hugos, a motley crew of jackdaws Sophie feeds outside her window; Forbidden Cat, who turns up at the most opportune times and very well might be immortal; and possibly the lovelorn ghost of a Lady in White.

This is maybe only half of the staff — I haven't even started on the guests. As fun as it would be to give you the roster, I don't think this piece is long enough to list them all. But Gier did such an excellent job illustrating each one in Sophie's conversational voice, I never had a problem keeping them straight in my mind as I read. I did, however, begin to yearn for a blueprint of the expansive hotel, with its multiple floors full of both large and tiny rooms and tucked-away staircases.

'A Castle in the Clouds' is a rollicking, non-stop romp full of characters and character, and it kept me smiling all the way to the end.

This international cast of dozens and their complex back stories are a lovely setup for the mystery to come. The hotel has been operating at a loss for years, and Gordon and Gilbert are considering selling what should be Ben's legacy. A Russian oligarch and his family have checked in under an assumed name. A gaggle of boisterous and mildly annoying American teens keep throwing a wrench into the works. There's a bodyguard who isn't a bodyguard, lost and found jewelry, lost and found children, and the scary, hyperbolic legend of the "grand hotel kidnappers," recounted by the resident bestselling thriller writer. There's even romance in the cards for Sophie, too — but will it be with stalwart hotel heir Ben Montfort or the devilishly handsome jeweler's grandson, Tristan Brown?

Between the incredible cast and the convoluted plot lines, this book may seem like a lot to juggle — and it is! — but everything happens exactly when it needs to. Gier makes it look easy, accompanying Sophie on her adventure through each moment's ups and downs and ultimately sliding into a dramatic and satisfying conclusion. A Castle in the Clouds is a rollicking, non-stop romp full of characters and character, and it kept me smiling all the way to the end. I had a fantastic time reading this book, and look forward to Kerstin Gier's future efforts, whatever they may be!

Alethea Kontis is a voice actress and award-winning author of over 20 books for children and teens.

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