Published today, Chris Colfer is back with the third instalment of his magical The Land of Stories series and this time fairytale history comes with a Grimm Warning! Now aged 14 and stuck living in the Otherworld, Conner Bailey must navigate across the globe to decipher a clue left from the world’s most famous storytellers. With a little help from some friends along the way, he must race through time and across dimensions to warn his twin sister Alex that the Fairy Kingdom is in grave danger. Full of surprises, secrets and sorcery, the series is perfect for fans of fairytales with a twist. This review contains minor spoilers.
Colfer’s writing is hugely enjoyable, and his third outing as author of The Land of Stories is his best venture yet. With sharper descriptions, a pacy and original plot and a crash course in fairytale history, his readers will not be disappointed. TLOS3 is full of insight and keen eyed observations of the beautiful sites important to the brothers Grimm, through castle strewn Germany and a trip to London to do some literary digging; I felt like a tourist on a grand day out. But with lots of running and an enchanted London lion involved.
A Potter fan will be keen to spot some Rowling influences in Colfer’s worldbuilding, such as the magic mirrors (used for communication and a bit like inter-dimensional FaceTime) and Hall of Dreams (that sometimes pop.) I love all these little winks and nods to the childhood literature that informed a generation of imaginations. It seems very fitting in a book all about the importance of sharing stories and keeping their worlds alive. The fairytale fandom is alive and well in The Land of Stories: A Grimm Warning. Rowling is indeed thanked in the book’s dedication alongside C.S Lewis, Roald Dahl, Eva Ibbotson, L. Frank Baum, James M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll.
Whilst the stories in this series are quite lengthy for Middle Grade, in TLOS3 Colfer finds a better balance and sets up a fast paced adventure that will keep young readers gripped until the very end.
The main strength of The Land of Stories series lies in the reimagining of old favourites and some inventive original characters. From a band of suspicious teenage girls dubbed the book huggers to wonderful Cornelius the dumpy unicorn with a stub horn, Colfer’s characters come alive with their memorable individual voices. Plus there’s vivacious Queen Red Riding Hood and her burgeoning interest in politics, new nemesis (or voice of reason) Little Bo Peep. And a Grand Armée led by egotistical and ambitious General Marquis who forces the Kingdom into a tight corner and in his greed sets out to conquer them all, blast the consequences. With her magic lessons from the wise old Fairy Godmother taking longer than she’d hoped, Alex soon learns that things as a fairy aren’t all they’re cracked up to be…and hidden pasts come up to haunt them all.
This book also deals with first crushes and does so brilliantly by delving into all their embarrassing awkward glory. Stuttery Conner and conflicted Alex each find their hearts aflutter in their respective lands, with skater girl Bree and farmhand Rook catching their attention. The relationships are sweet and honest and imperfect. With humour and heartbreak, Colfer whips up a spell of stormy emotions that perfectly captures those first steps into young love. There’ll be butterflies aplenty.
On the flipside we get adults engaging in fugitive weddings officiated by a drunken Mother Goose. Of course. Tongue in cheek humour and winks at the misbehaviour of adults is part of the rebellious delight that mirrors the twins own turns at getting into trouble. It will have young readers giggling and parents amused.
Colfer’s key message throughout the book is to believe in your own potential. ‘Don’t think you’re not worth celebrating’ states a fairy, a lesson that anyone suffering from self-doubt would do well to keep in mind. The moments of reflection and clever character introspection make the series a good one for classrooms and prompting discussions about morality. Guarding your behaviour and making careful and considered decisions but at the same time embracing opportunity and striving for personal success makes for a perilous journey. With each character capable of moments of selfishness and selflessness, Colfer’s reimagined fairytales turn convention on its head. I’m always intrigued by the hints of the dark side of fame and ambition that creep into the tales, and TLOS3 is no exception to the cautionary exposé of beloved fairytale characters. You’ll never guess what Gretel got up to…
Careful what you think you believe readers. Here be dragons!
As with the second in the series, The Land of Stories: A Grimm Warning has bombshells and revelations that will leave readers wanting more. I can’t wait to see what comes next in TLOS4.
Check out The Land of Stories website for details of Chris Colfer’s July US book tour.
I purchased The Land of Stories A Grimm Warning for review from Waterstones UK on early release.