Lonely Castle in the Mirror: It’s not just the castle that’s lonely

Plenty of twists keep the intrigue high in Lonely Castle in the Mirror, an engaging fantasy novel for young adults and older. Image credit: Amazon.com

by Shuyler Clark

Seventh-grader Kokoro Anzai has dropped out of school, hiding away at home to avoid her classmates’ torment. When her bedroom mirror starts glowing, she discovers it has become a portal to a castle governed by the Wolf Queen. Six other middle school students have been summoned alongside Kokoro to search for the Wishing Key, which will grant whoever finds it a single wish. As the deadline to find the Wishing Key draws nearer, Kokoro and the others must face uncomfortable truths about themselves and each other.

The strongest aspect of Mizuki Tsujimura’s Lonely Castle in the Mirror is the depiction of the characters’ mental health struggles and the challenges of living day-to-day with them. Each of the seven kids faces unique problems regarding school, leading them all to drop out. Many of them developed depression and anxiety, which in Kokoro’s case results in a debilitating fear of going outside. Tsujimura approaches this with tenderness, effectively illustrating every step of Kokoro’s battle, celebrating the small victories and empathizing with her setbacks.

This approach extends to the other characters as well. Though they often fight among themselves due to their different perspectives, they come through in support of their struggles. Not only does this make a more compelling narrative, it also helps readers understand and relate with these mental health problems. Even those who have never experienced severe anxiety or depression will empathize with Kokoro and the other children, thanks to Tsujimura’s tactful portrayal of their conflicts.

Supporting characters are also treated tactfully. Bullying is a significant topic in the novel, with the main characters each facing their own form of aggression, either at school or at home. While the aggressors are undoubtedly wrong for their actions, Tsujimura addresses their flaws sensitively. This is especially important given how many of the bullies are also children and thus susceptible to poor decision-making. The adults are held to higher accountability, further helping readers understand what a proper approach is to helping and understanding victims of bullying and similar mistreatment. 

As for the setting, the castle and the game of finding the Wishing Key draw inspiration from Western fairy tales. While the use of fairy tales has greater significance in the overall story, the influence in the castle itself makes it an intriguing location. Readers will easily become invested in the mystery of the castle and come to understand the children’s attachment to it. The search for the Wishing Key helps tie together each child’s struggles in the real world, as well, since many of them wish for things that would improve their circumstances outside the castle. Plenty of twists throughout the story keep the intrigue high, culminating in an emotional, yet satisfying, conclusion.

Lonely Castle in the Mirror is an engaging fantasy novel for young adults and older. An animated adaptation was released in Japan in December 2022, though an English localization has yet to be announced.

ShuylerClark

Shuyler Clark is a graduate of Stockbridge High School and Lansing Community College. When she is not reading or writing, she can be found snuggling with her birds.

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