Saturday, June 27, 2015

Book Review: Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell (Chris Colfer)


Alex and Conner's grandmother passes down the family's old Book of Stories, a collection of fairytales from Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. The twins grew up on the stories of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and many others, and for their thirteenth birthday their grandmother presents it to them as a gift.

But the Book of Stories is much, much more than just a book. Alex and Conner find themselves sucked right into the Book of Stories, traveling the kingdoms and meeting the characters they only read about. In order to get back home, they have to collect items to activate a wishing spell. But they're not the only ones after the spell…

Chris Colfer's first novel is full of colorful and quirky characters. We meet familiar characters like Snow White, Goldilocks, and even the Little Mermaid. But there is a twist: we meet them after their stories have taken place. So now Cinderella is expecting a baby, Goldilocks is a wanted criminal, and (kind of spoiler alert) the Little Mermaid has already died. The land is broken up into several different kingdoms and territories, and the twins visit nearly all of them.

However, there were some unrealistic aspects to their adventuring that made reading those scenes a little bit ridiculous or unbelievable. The time it takes to travel between places (if you consult the map included in the hardcover edition) feels inaccurate. These little unrealistic pieces made the story a little less fun and engaging.

At times the "show don't tell" rule didn't seem to be necessarily followed. I'm sure it needn't be followed all the time, but in The Wishing Spell it seemed to be disregarded more often than it ought. Parts of the worldbuilding didn't seem to fit with the world, too. Cannons are present in the fairytale world, and they felt out of place among the swords and crossbows. The POVs of the twins also seemed more detached. With two points of view at the same time, nearly always together, a reader might feel a bit separated from them. Readers might feel not as included and absorbed in the story.

Chris Colfer's worldbuilding is fun and colorful, though. As he is drawing from Andersen and Brothers Grimm fairytales, the worldbuilding isn't necessarily unique and original, but he adds his own touches that give a fresh take on the old fairytales. Red Riding Hood, for example, is now a queen, and the men the famous fairytale princesses marry are all brothers, the Charmings (and their first names all begin with the Ch sound). The world has passed the stories we know, but it now rises with a new set of issues that make the world familiar, yet unique and new.

The conflict didn't seem to encompass all that it could. The twins race to find the items needed for the Wishing Spell, and sometimes it feels too easy or convenient for them when they find the items. The conflict usually only arises after the twins have the item safely in their possession, not during their attempts to get the items. It often felt too convenient and easy for them.


Violence/gore: Conner teases a fairy by saying she'll probably be barbecued by an ogre. It's implied that a character meets his death when they stay behind to fend off monsters, allowing the twins time to escape. Skeletons are seen in a pit. Wolves make a habit of falling to their deaths. A character attempts murder on another. A character is killed with a crossbow bolt, another is struck by a cannonball, and a third character is stabbed in the arm. But nothing is described in great detail at all.

Profanity: one instance each of the p-word, the b-word, and the d-word. 

Sexual content: Referenced nudity with some fairies. Conner briefly kisses a troll princess (against his will).

Other: The goblins and trolls are referenced to have vulgar behavior. Goldilocks and Red call each other rather vulgar names. Conner jokes that the cold water has made him and Alex twin sisters.

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