The Casting

 The CastingThe Casting takes place in Ireland in 350 AD and follows the story of Robyn, the younger daughter of a bronze caster. While her older sister, Lianna, is content to follow in their mother’s footsteps—becoming a healer and marrying Gilhey, the apprentice likely to take over the foundry—Robyn feels called to follow in her father’s footsteps, thus going against cultural convention.

Robyn has to work hard to prove herself worthy, and her father isn’t cutting her any slack just because she’s his daughter nor because she’s a girl. She quickly learns that being an apprentice is incredibly hard work and holds very little of the glamor she imagined when she dreamed of casting bronze. Not only is the path difficult, but Gilhey is actively trying to prevent her from succeeding. When Gilhey and Robyn are involved in a horrific accident that fatally injures Robyn’s father, Robyn runs away. She believes that she must fulfill a quest to prove herself worthy to return home. Alone in a dangerous world, she seeks to redeem herself; in the process, she learns that she’s not as alone as she imagines and it’s only in her own eyes that she needs to redeem herself.

The Casting is an interesting novel, particularly in the details of life that it provides. Honestly, I’d have preferred even more details about the world and fewer “people are trying to kill or enslave Robyn” moments, but overall I enjoyed it.

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid

Violence & Gore

The book opens with Robyn rather graphically tearing the feathers from small dead birds and gutting them before they go in the stew pot. While this is a normal if unwelcome chore for Robyn, it might be an abrupt introduction for modern sensibilities.

There are stories of Roman soldiers who have deserted the army—they’re wandering the woods, abducting girls and women who are alone. When Robyn encounters one later, first he intends to make her his wife whether or not she wants to be, then he thinks maybe he’ll sell her into slavery instead.

Robyn is repeatedly beaten up, occasionally to the point of losing consciousness. Gilhey wouldn’t mind seeing her dead, and as the book goes on he takes steps toward that end. At the end, though, he’s the one who ends up dead—not exactly pleasantly.

Gilhey sabotages Robyn when she’s pouring molten bronze for casting a sacred knife. The bronze splashes all over her father, particularly on his face. This horrific accident is talked about in some detail—it’s not terribly graphic, but it doesn’t shy away from how incredibly awful it is. The molten metal is horribly damaging, but cooled metal on your skin isn’t any better. Her father lingers at death’s door for a while before succumbing to his injuries.


Robyn is driven by her guilt over this accident. Even though Gilhey is the one who caused it, she’s convinced she should have been able to handle it better and avoid the accident. She assumes that her family and community blame her for what happened and she runs away. Somehow she gets it into her head that the only way to redeem herself is to gather more bronze and recast the knife. It turns out that she’s really the only one who blamed herself, but her dangerous quest eventually allows her to forgive herself. In the process she also learns just how stubborn and single-minded she can be and begins to think that maybe that isn’t always a strength.

Family & Friends

Robyn worries about how her family will accept her unconventional dreams, but for the most part they’re really supportive of her. This in no way means that they coddle her, though—she has to pull her own weight both as an apprentice and around the house. They call her on it when she starts to let things slide. Robyn’s father seems quite progressive overall, not viewing his wife and daughters as his property. Her parents’ marriage is full of love and laughter. For a while it looks like Lianna will side with her fiancé over her sister, but as soon as she realizes what he’s done, she’s fully supportive of her sister.

Robyn is good friends with Gilhey’s half brother, Finn. They’ve been friends since childhood and they are apprentices together at the foundry. They help each other and try to protect each other from Gilhey. There is a sense that their relationship may lead to more than friendship, but it isn’t explicitly explored. Getting married isn’t a necessary step in Robyn’s self-discovery, so it isn’t explored here. Robyn keeps insisting on questing alone, and Finn keeps following her. Eventually he gets her to admit that she needs help to fulfill the quest. I got the sense that this wasn’t at all a “Girls need help” thing so much as a “Robyn needs to learn to accept help when something is too much for her” thing.


Gilhey’s father was a Roman soldier who never married his mother. Gilhey always felt like an outsider and strives to prove himself. In the process, though, he bullies his younger half brother and Robyn (and probably others) both physically and emotionally. He learns to work the system, though, so Lianna, Robyn’s father, and others in the community don’t seem to see what he’s doing. Robyn and Finn feel that they should not tell on Gilhey—on some level they don’t expect to be believed, but there’s also a feeling that they should just deal with this on their own, even as it starts to turn deadly. That decision doesn’t pay off well, since earlier intervention might have prevented the accident that injures Robyn’s father.

Gender Roles

The story is all about Robyn bucking the expectations of her community. However, it’s clear that this is the choice that’s right for her, but not for everyone. Her mother is proud to fulfill a typically female role—healing, midwifery, cooking, keeping house. Lianna, too, is well suited to this and finds pride in it. Those who follow more traditional paths are still good people. The story is more about being true to yourself than breaking down barriers that confine.

Robyn’s father is nearly as much of a progressive as his daughter—as her father, he has the right to force her to be more traditional, but he lets her make her own decisions. He also treats her like any other apprentice, assuming she can handle it. He values his wife and girls. Much of Robyn’s motivation comes from wanting to make him proud of her.

In the end, the entire community comes to Robyn’s rescue, and they allow her to step into her father’s shoes as she tries to rebuild the foundry. It makes the gender roles seem more fluid, as though it’s more a matter of expectation than strongly held belief.

There are some gender roles that are ordained, though. Robyn must do the casting of the sacred knife because it’s a birthing dagger and therefore each step of its creation should be handled by a woman. When Gilhey doesn’t understand this, it leads to the fight that leads to the accident.


All choices—even good ones—have consequences. Life isn’t suddenly a bed of roses if you start being true to your heart. I appreciate that the story focuses on how choices are difficult and have repercussions, even when you know you’re doing the right thing. The villains in the story are those who would take choices away from people, usually through slavery or forcing them into certain roles. Girls in particular have few choices.

History & Tradition

The book itself contains a lot of historical details, often just dropped in as part of the story. For instance, Robyn’s dad says in all seriousness that he hopes she will live to the ripe old age of 35, which teaches the reader a bit about life expectancy. There’s some detail about how the casting of bronze works (I wouldn’t have complained about a bit more exploration on subjects like that!).

Times are changing, though, and old traditions and beliefs are being lost. Robyn’s family upholds the old ways, and that comes in handy for her on several occasions. Those who don’t know the old traditions are at a disadvantage.

Religion & Superstition

Part of the plot centers around the sacred day of Samhain. Druids are mentioned, as well as rituals and traditions. It’s primarily part of the setting, though. The sacred knife that Robyn is casting when the accident happens is a birthing dagger for the Druid priestess and must be cast by a woman.

Occasionally Robyn thinks that the trees talk to her, especially an old rowan tree—whether they are or not is never confirmed nor denied. She routinely trips over a tree root and she thinks this is more than just clumsy lack of attention. She also has a growing sense of dread that is intangible, but very creepy. When Gilhey oversteps from pranks to actually hurting people, that sense of dread makes sense.


This is an interesting novel for slightly older tweens (a mature 10 and up) who are interested in stories of another time. I’d have liked a little less plot and a little more setting and character development, but that’s a minor complaint. Although the main character is a girl, I think boys would enjoy it equally well.

Disclaimer: The author provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Casting by Joyce Shor Johnson
Published in 2012 by Pugalicious Press
Read in paperback


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