The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer (Advanced Reader Copy)
Release Date: July 17, 2012
Genre: Fiction, childrens, fractured fairy tales, fantasy, should have hired a ghostwriter
Rating: 2.87 out of 5 stars
Summary: Twins Conner and Alex’s lives are turned upside down when they fall into the Land of Stories, a book full of fairy tales. After being befriended by a talking frog conveniently named Froggy, the twins learn that in order to get home they must collect the items needed for the Wishing Spell, a wish that will allow them to return home. What follows is an adventure full of situations where our dynamic duo needs neither brains nor brawn to assure their success. Just a ton of good luck.
Here we go, another book written by a celebrity. Trust me, it’s not ghost written, but maybe it should have been. I am always a little reticent to pick up a celebrity book (you will not see me with Tyra Bank’s Modelland or anything by Snooki, Hilary Duff, and Lauren Conrad). That’s not to say if it’s written by a celebrity, that it’s automatically awful- John Lithgow and Fred Gwynne wrote great children’s books, and Carrie Fisher has two hysterical memoirs. There’s nothing wrong with celebrities writing if they’re actually good at it. However, if they’re given a book deal based on their celebrity alone, that’s when I have a problem.
As you may have gleaned from my BEA wrap up, I had high hopes for this novel. It covers one of my favorite genres: fractured fairy tales and the concept sounded intriguing: two twins fall into the land of fairy tales and meet Queen Riding Hood, discover that Goldilocks is a wanted woman, and the Evil Queen is wreaking havoc across the land. Unfortunately, it fell short of all my expectations. Even the pretty cover and interior artwork (all by Brandon Dorman) couldn’t save the book this time. Nice try publicity team, trying to trick me into thinking this was a good children’s book.
The Land of Stories revolves around two twins obsessed with fairy tales. There’s brainy Alex who loves to learn, and the Bart to her Lisa, her brother Conner. Conner is one of the few likeable characters, with a great sense of humor. This is slightly ruined when Colfer makes sure to tell us Conner is funny without meaning to be. When things in their life are at their lowest (their father recently died and their birthday looks like it will be a meager one), the duo literally fall into their grandmother’s book of fairy tales. One plus of this novel included Colfer not going out of his way to bring the twin’s father back to life. I hate any story or movie that panders to children and make them think they can speak to dead loved ones through Snowmen or reunite their divorced parents. It gives them impossible expectations.
Inside this familiar new world the twins meet Froggy, a man cursed to be a frog who conveniently tells them everything they need to know. All the kingdoms in the land combined make up the Happily Ever After Assembly and are ruled over by Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella are married to Chance, Chase, and Chandler Charming. A prince named Chandler, really? Their fourth brother Charlie is missing and assumed dead. We learn Red Riding Hood’s kingdom seceded which led to the formation of the Big Bad Wolf Pack and the Fairy Council (Mother Goose is a fairy for some reason). This council is in charge of keeping the trolls and goblins at bay. Spoiler warning: They’re pretty bad at it. Now that the good (or rather not as bad) is out of the way, onto the bad. And oh boy is it bad. AKA worse.
The first thing this novel suffers from is being overly wordy. At 448 pages, it’s far too long for a children’s book. Even Harry Potter didn’t hit the 400 page mark until people started getting killed off, and by then Rowling’s characters were teenagers. This problem could have been fixed had Colfer limited the scope of his premise. Not only do his characters need to visit nine places, they also need to collect eight magical objects to complete a spell that will take them home. There’s a reason fairy tales usually stick to the rule of three!
Another painful facet of the novel is the overuse of metaphors and similes. Enough to kill a small woodland animal. They were grating enough in Robert Kirkman’s Rise of the Governor, which I covered HERE, and were equally painful in this children’s story. I have included my favorites (and by favorites I mean the ones that make me want to stab myself most) below.
- “… Like fireflies in a cave.” I hate when caves are full of fireflies.
- “… Diverted her attention to him like a paper clip to a magnet.” Why a paper clip? Why not tacks? Or other magnets?
- “He handed the poster back to his sister as if it were infected with rabies.” You’d hand your sister something covered in rabies!?!
- “… Clutching onto her brother like a monkey on a tree.” Eating lice off of him simultaneously.
As if these metaphors and similes- which pulled me out of the story- weren’t bad enough, there was also various ridiculousness peppered throughout. First, is the belief that Colfer seems to think emotions and feelings affect the entire body. For example, “Curiosity had taken over her entire body”. When does curiosity engulf all your senses? Maybe jealousy, anxiety, or feelings of happiness but certainly not curiosity. My toes have never felt curious. Ever. Unless I’m just broken. We are also told that this is the only time ever that Snow White raises her voice. Ever. Other face palm worthy examples include. “Hugs so tight they would almost pop” and the plot holes. Oh so many plot holes.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the narrative however is the ease with which the twins get out of sticky situations. The great thing about children’s adventure stories are how the characters use their brains and ingenuity to get out of problems. In this book, the children merely rely on their own luck and good fortune. When they’re about to be eaten by a witch, Conner makes a wish that she become a vegetarian, which she randomly grants. Realizing the futility of getting Cinderella’s glass slipper, it magically appears in their bag. They’re rescued by everyone and their mother, including the Little Mermaid who for some reason is sea foam, despite becoming a daughter of the air in the original story. And don’t even get me started on that damn ending.
-Fun premise that could have been executed much much better
-Great cover and illustrations, props to Brandon Dorman
-Soooo damn long, eight obstacles is five too many
-Overuse of metaphors and simile
-Doesn’t understand how the human body works
-Obstacles are overcome not with intelligence, but by sheer luck
-Plot holes so big an elephant could fall in them (see what I did there?)
For better takes on this genre, I highly suggest the comic book series Fables, young adult steampunk sci-fi take on Cinderella: Cinder, the incredibly well written Breadcrumbs, any children books about princesses from Gail Carson Levine, and anything by adult writer Gregory Maguire- specifically Wicked. Not only are the stories fun and engaging, but they’re also written by real authors.