Young Tom comes from a line of storybook heroes. And by that I mean the actual heroes of such stories as “Jack the Giant Killer” and “The Frog Prince.” Whether a clever tailor or a charming prince, the hero in each of your favorite fairy tales was most likely a member of the Trueheart clan, acting on instructions from the staff at the Story Bureau, and with a little help from sprites who carry messages and throw in a little magic now and then.
Here’s how it works: Either Tom’s father Jack (missing these last several years) or one of his six elder brothers (all named Jack, or some variation thereof), on receiving a memo from the Story Bureau, marches out of the family cottage and into either the north, south, east, or west gate of the Land of Stories—a place where all the ingredients are in place for an adventure with trolls, giants, fairy godmothers, wicked witches, and what you will. After completing their adventure, they come home and tell the story, and this is what gets published in our world. So the Truehearts serve a vital function, keeping tales of imagination and enchantment flowing into the world of hard facts and harsh realities.
But now, something has gone wrong. One of the idea men at the Story Bureau has gone rogue, embedding traps in a series of story-beginnings that are sent to Tom’s older brothers. As the boy’s twelfth birthday approaches, and his apprenticeship as a storybook hero is set to begin, all of his role models are obliged to march away, promising to return on time for his birthday party. Instead, Tom’s birthday brings a message from the Story Bureau, ordering him to set out on a rescue mission to find his lost brothers, and by any means possible to help them complete their assignments.
And so Tom becomes the unsung hero in the untold part of the stories of Cinderella, the Sleeping Beauty, the Frog Prince, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Snow White. And readers familiar with Chris Colfer’s The Wishing Spell are treated to another “Land of Stories”—same name, different map—based on quite a different principle. While I’m not sure the concept behind this tale stands up to any scrutiny, there’s no denying that it sets the stage for a thrilling adventure in which one small boy rights many wrongs, confronts a full-grown villain, experiences an interesting “behind the scenes” version of several well-known stories, and forms an endearing bond with a talking crow. It’s a growing experience for a boy who worries about whether he will find his courage. It’s wholesome fun for readers of most any age. And finally, it hints at a darker mystery that Tom must face in subsequent books.
Ian Beck is an artist and illustrator best known for his work on album covers, an animated telefilm, and over a dozen children’s picture-books. His other titles include Pastworld, The Hidden Kingdom, The Haunting of Charity Delafield, and a book for “reluctant, struggling and dyslexic readers” titled Samurai; plus a collection of fairy tales, a retelling of The Little Mermaid, and two sequels to this book. Their titles are Tom Trueheart and the Land of Dark Stories and Tom Trueheart and the Land of Myths and Legends.