I’m in 2 minds about Ladycastle. First, it’s a fun fairly light fantasy story in which all the men of a town are killed on an expedition except one old knight, which means all the wives and daughters left behind have to take over and do all the work to keep the town safe and running. This includes Merinor, formerly blacksmith’s wife, now King; Aeve, eldest princess, now Knight, and Gwneff, the younger princess who is somewhat tomboyish and somewhat bratty. There’s also some variety to the women: some are darker skinned, one is in a wheelchair, and another wears a headscarf.
Once the women take over, they face threats from werewolves, harpies, and of course the requisite Black Knight. Each time, the threat appears to be traditional, but then a comic twist shows up to change the direction of the story, both for the characters and the readers. As the least spoiler-y, the werewolves turn out to be decent guys whose town was cursed/attacked by wolves and once bitten, they turn into mindless wolves once a month when the moon is full. Once they turn human and are covered by the ladies’ old dresses, the werewolves suggest that they create their own repellent by peeing around the borders of the castle or town on their way out.
I’m all for messing a bit with traditional characters and tropes, but sometimes things go beyond the amusing and get dumb or too much. Aeve is locked in a town at the beginning of the story for refusing to marry like her father wants, and she sings songs that are fairly obviously modeled on Disney princess songs but Disney songs gone a little twisted: “There goes the barber, or/ Really, his sister. Bloodletting/ Customers are rare./ With fleams and leeches too,/ She hasn’t much to do, But really she just wants/ to style your hair.” First, this is one of the better ones, and second if you don’t catch the tune that’s supposed to go with that, you don’t deserve to. This sort of thing is rendered a little pointless after it keeps getting repeated, and eventually it annoys not only me but at least one character in the story.
My other issue is that the first half gets really redundant with the repeated emphasis on “men are mean, and usually stupid, and women are better off without them”. Apparently none of the men have even slightly redemptive qualities, all treating their wives and/or daughters like second-class citizens, and then I noticed that the King was named ‘Mancastle’. How much more obvious can you get? Sir Riddick eventually starts to get over being a chauvinist, and the wizard’s wife seems to have actually liked her husband, but everyone else was with a man who told her some variation of “be seen, not heard” or “stay out of my way, and stay in the kitchen”. While the message has some legitimacy, especially now, overemphasizing the idea, really diminishes the point. For that, 3.5 stars.