This book is a deadly serious, grown-up take on the land of stories that never for an instant winks at the reader or acknowledges a real world outside its own Grimm reality. It reveals some of the nastier things usually hidden on the underside of folklore.
Somewhere over the doughnut, there’s a place where knights slay dragons, and woodcutters slay granny-eating wolves, and all the other stock fairy-tale characters live stock fairy-tale lives. But one day, a forest maiden named Buttercup awakens to the absurdity of it all.
Styled like a tale of ancient days in the part of the world I like to call “the Stans,” this is a magical, romantic, and at times suspenseful tale.
Collection spells are not just for debt collectors who want to put the hoodoo on a delinquent customer. In Chris Colfer’s “Land of Stories” series, they are the framework for a quest-like adventure through a magic world teeming with fairy tale heroes and villains. The first book, “The Wishing Spell”, was all about a shopping list of magical items that twins Alex and Conner Bailey needed to assemble in order to get home to the “Other World” (namely, ours). It could only ever be used one more time, and the Evil Queen from “Snow White” wanted to get there first. Now in their second visit to the Land of Stories, Alex and Conner are trying to complete one collection spell, while the Enchantress from “The Sleeping Beauty” races to finish another.
Ralph is a geek, but not the type who would ordinarily dream of becoming the hero in a fantasy novel. In fact, Ralph’s boring parents have done their best to instill in him a flat, unheroic, unimaginative character. Their reason is that it is dangerous for members of their family to make wishes. The closest thing to a wish that has ever crossed Ralph’s mind is his dream of being a computer game designer. I know, right? What a geek! But then the fantasy novel happens to him.
The trail of “things to read after Harry Potter” has already led me past many books in which real-world characters get mixed up in the world where fairy tales and children’s stories are real. Off the top of my head, these include the work of authors Chris Colfer, Eoin Colfer, Ian Beck, Frank Beddor, Michael Buckley, Marissa Burt, Michael Ende, Lev Grossman, Tom Holt, Lisa Papademetriou, and Sarah Beth Durst; even if I’ve forgotten twice as many, my point is made. If you’ve been following developments in my book review column, you might appreciate the variety that gives spice to this theme.
In the sequel to “The Secret History of Tom Trueheart”, the youngest of seven brothers in the last surviving family of storybook heroes must, once again, set out to save the older six. Not only that, but he must rescue five princesses who were spirited away on their wedding day before the helpless, horrified eyes of their wedding guests. Also, he has to stop a renegade Story Bureau scribe, now styling himself the King of Unhappy Endings, from marching an Army of Darkness against the Land of Stories.
Una Fairchild is a lonely little girl from our world who, one day, finds a book in the library purporting to be the Story of Una Fairchild. Even more amazingly, the book’s blank pages begin filling with text before her eyes, as though she were part of a story being written down as it happens in real time. Before she has a moment to stop and consider what is going on, she finds herself really inside the story—or rather in Story—gate-crashing two students’ practical exam in heroics.
This book is what happens when a New York City schoolteacher stitches together nine fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm to form one coherent story—while, at the same time, restoring much of the original versions’ weird, scary, and bloody bits. And although the narrator often pulls the reader aside and begs him to make sure there are no small children in the room to hear the tale, the entire book demonstrates an amazing faith in kids’ guts, brains, and hearts—not only that they can understand and appreciate such strong stuff, but that they are brave enough to take it, worthy to enjoy it, and keen to learn from it
The sixth book in the “Sisters Grimm” series features another “fractured fairy-tale” to delight middle-grade readers. Sabrina and Daphne go through a lot in this installment. While Sabrina finds herself reaching the age where she can’t help worrying about how she looks, Daphne suddenly—and, to Sabrina, irritatingly—takes to imitating her older sister.