By Edward Eager
Illustrated by N.M. Bodecker
1956, Harcourt, Brace & World
Knight's Castle is the sequel to Half Magic, although the series is only very loosely tied together, and can be read in any order. I think it is safe to say than most people will find Half Magic to be the better book, so I'd still recommend starting with it.
The Half Magic children are grown up and married, and now have children of their own. This story follows the adventures of Martha and Katharine's children: Roger, Ann, Jack, and Eliza. The story starts when Roger and Ann's father comes down seriously ill, and they must travel to spend the summer with their cousins. Roger is a big fan of toy soldiers, and he takes a box along with them, including an ancient one that has been passed down through the generations. As it happens, aunt Katharine has bought the kids rather extravagant gifts including even more toy soldiers and a fancy toy castle.
The kids start playing soldiers, and as we all expected, the toys comes to life. Each night as they sleep, they have an adventure in the toy's world, and Roger's ancient tin soldier hints that completing a secret quest will cure their father. This all makes very little sense, but it is not required that children's fantasy make sense. Unfortunately, Eager moves from fun magical story to modern social commentary... which, now 60 years out of date, is not as amusing as it once was. I am dubious that it ever was particularly interesting to children. Moreover, as an adult, it annoys me a bit that the key to the story is that the kids have to play with their toys in the 'right' way; mixing playsets leads to social decline and and entropy, separating the playsets saves their father's life.
Which shouldn't, actually be taken as a serious complaint. This is not a great classic of children's literature, but it is a fun story with knights and villains, castles and at least one flying saucer. Eager sticks in a good bunch of literary and historical references, and adds in a fair pinch of humor. Overall, I would recommend reading this if you are a fan of Eager, but would not recommend starting with it.
This series, sometimes referred to as the Tales of Magic series, was not published following the internal chronology, and the third book, Magic by the Lake, will return to the the original four children's younger days. Roger, Ann, Jack, and Eliza will return in book four, The Time Garden.