The Maze in the Heart of the Castle by Dorothy Gilman
From the back of the book:
'His name was Colin, and, although he still couldn't believe it, his parents were gone, both dead from the plague. Scared, confused, and angry, he sought out a monk who told him about a haunted castle on Rheembeck Mountain - and the old, strange wizard who lived there. Perhaps there Colin would find a way to stop his pain...
But instead of answers, the wizard showed him a locked oak door. Beyond it lay an ancient stone maze that led to a mystical land, a place where bandits roamed freely, where people lived within dark caves, afraid of the light, where cruelty was the way of the world, and where beautiful girls were not always what they seemed.
The wizard opened the oak door and invited Colin to enter. If Colin came through this strange place alive, he might indeed be able to ease the pain in his heart. But once inside, there could be no going back...'
The Maze in the Heart of the Castle is written more as an allegory than a novel so many of the people that Colin, the hero of the tale, meets are more symbols than they are characters. So they are not developed very well and lack depth but they serve their purpose and get the point across. The journey Colin goes on is one of self discovery and he must face all the different thing that will stop him if he lets them. And because, once again, things seem to be more symbols than anything else many of the situations he finds himself in develop and end rather quickly. The pared down characters and situations let Colin encounter many things and go on a long journey without having the novel weighed down with lots of details but still giving the reader the ideas of and the feel for them all. The setting is vaguely medieval with transportation by horse and fighting with slingshots and daggers but he had a penknife and a joke book which didn’t seem to fit in with some of the other things so it was hard to get a time period for the book. It isn’t exactly nonstop action but the narrative does keep the plot moving along at a good pace. It can be read as just a quick easy adventure story or, more in keeping with the allegorical feel of the book, you can look for the moral and follow Colin as he deals with his grief, anger and confusion and learn with him what it means to get through the maze at the heart of the castle.