Release Date: July 17, 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Age Group: Young Adult
Buy: Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound
Alex and Conner Bailey's world is about to change, in this fast-paced adventure that uniquely combines our modern day world with the enchanting realm of classic fairytales.
The Land of Stories tells the tale of twins Alex and Conner. Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, they leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about.
But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought.
I should start this review by stating two important facts: I haven’t read any middle grade novels besides the first few Percy Jackson books, and I am an unapologetic Gleek. My love of all things Chris Colfer brought me to The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, and I decided to try my hand at middle grade for him. Alex and Connor’s epic scavenger hunt was a wonderfully fun story, but it didn’t enchant me as much as I hoped. Sadly, much of that had to do with the writing.
I’ll begin with the plot, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Colfer’s Land of Stories, a magically real place where all of the fairy tale characters you know and love exist together, is familiar yet uniquely fun. Alex and Connor Bailey are our guides through the land—two average 12-year-old twins who grew up hearing all of the stories from The Land via their late father and their grandmother. The kids can be a little Mary Sue-ish at times, but that’s also part of their charm and it works for them in this situation. Many times, I found myself giggling at Connor’s quips, especially during their trip into Red Riding Hood’s castle. I also loved the creative take on the different kingdoms: each section is ruled by a different fairy tale heroine (Cinderella, Snow White, etc.), each with their own set of personality quirks and leadership styles. Queen Red Riding Hood stood out as particularly silly, trying her hardest to fit in with these more famous queens of lore. I also thought the search for the items in the Wishing Spell was an interesting way to take the Bailey twins (and the readers) throughout the entire kingdom. It’s a great twist on tales as old as time.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think the writing was as strong as the story itself. It’s clear he has a great idea in his head of where the story should go, but the words don’t reflect that passion. Because I haven’t read much middle grade, I don’t know what is typical, but there were many passages that I felt could have used a fair bit of editing. Colfer’s style is less about showing and more about telling, and that’s not my favorite. For example, Alex and Connor often repeat themselves and the purpose of their journey in a Harry and Ron circa Chamber of Secrets way. This is a technique to remind the readers of the action thus far but it happened too often for my taste. I wish the depth and creativity of the story had translated more to the words on the page.
I know this book is a long time coming for Colfer, which is another reason I gave it a chance. I’m glad I spent the time in The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, despite my reservations about the writing. I look forward to diving into more middle grade novels in the future.