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(Book Review) Land of Stories: An Author’s Odyssey

Book Review No. 26: Land of Stories: An Author’s Odyssey by Chris Colfer

Series: Land of Stories, no. 5

Genre: Middle-grade fantasy/fairytale retelling

Content for the Sensitive Reader: mild language, gruesome pirate backstory (slavery, murder, etc.), witches, curses, a creepy scene in a graveyard, zombies (not particularly graphic), at least 2 violent deaths. Fine for most middle-grade readers.

BookmarkedOne Rating: 7/10 –not bad, but not Colfer’s best, either.

It’s been a really long time since I read a Chris Colfer book. And while it wasn’t Monte Carlo and Neuschwanstein castle, it was nice to have a reunion.

What did I like? Honestly, it’s hard to know where to begin. First off, it isn’t an “eleven-year-olds must save the world” book. The parents of the main characters are involved. More than that, they are vitally important. It’s a fabulous thing to see when most middle-grade books exclude parents entirely, dead before the opening, or write them as total killjoys (Harry Potter, All Four Stars, A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans–don’t get me started). Seriously, I dare you to name 5 that have healthy relationships, let alone those where the kids ask their parents for help.

So when Charlotte Gordon insists on putting herself front and center in this book (while Bob is in the background going “magic…oookay” in the most amusing way), I’m cheering her on.

Besides. She’s a cool mom.

The Bailey twins and their family dynamic really fascinates me. It’s comic and charming and believable–really, the only thing I have to complain about is that they’re too perfect. How they possibly do all the madcap things they do without arguing endlessly…that’s a fantasy in itself.

And that’s another thing about this book. Beyond a healthy family relationship, every time I turn around, the characters are trying to build one another and the reader up. For most of the series, Alex has been the one to “get everything right.” The serious sibling. Conner goofs off, doesn’t let people make expectations for him. But in An Author’s Odyssey, the reader gets a chance to see how bright and strong he really is, no matter what people think of him. And that’s a beautiful thing to see. It’s a beautiful thing to feel, when so often everyone, no matter the age feels crushed, defeated with the weight of their mistakes before they even try. You are beautiful and gifted all on your own.

(clears throat awkwardly)

Also Trollbella’s play. I’m a little bit mesmerized by live theater and that chapter had me giggling. I love me a play production like that in real life, and having fantasy characters in it only made things better.

That’s something else about the book–nothing is as it typically should be. The setting can’t get boring. Fantasy characters are in the real world, the mom’s somewhere else, and Conner’s stories have come to life.

I know he has a hard enough time in the book. But I’d probably have a much worse track record if I met my characters…if I came back alive.

Anybody got Portal Potion, call me up. My weekend can wait.

That being said, Colfer’s suspense is fabulous. Maybe a little too fabulous. The cliffhanger in book 3 was what originally had me furious at the series. I was prepared for it this time around. Still involved a midnight trip to the library just so I could have the next book ready and waiting before I went to bed. Virtual library. Still.

I can’t help comparing it to Frank Herbert’s Dune since I was reading the two at nearly the same time. They’re totally different. Dune is sci-fi prestige and awards. And yet An Author’s Odyssey manages by telling the reader “Here’s the villain. He has three bullets in a gun,” to create more suspense than the entirety of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Yeah. It’s well done.

Can’t say I’m totally fond of the conclusion for the villain…but I do appreciate how the main characters don’t just move on. Nobody’s happy about it. Tragic things are still tragic, even when they happen to people that deserve them.

Still not sold on zombies either, but at least they’re not the worst sort. I remember telling a friend, “You know, there’s never been a book I’ve read and just thought You know what this needs? Zombies. That’s what would really give this plot some zest.” Yeah, still not feeling it. I have a theory you could take them out of every place they exist and the story would be equally strong without it. But that’s personal, and Colfer’s aren’t as gross as they could have been, so…use your own judgement.

In the end? Doesn’t stand on its own too well. Colfer doesn’t exactly stop to reintroduce all the characters you might have forgotten. It’s clearly written for the next book to follow. The conclusion is the “blink and you’ll miss it” type.

But there’s a lot of heart. Like a hug and a fireplace and a fuzzy orange sweater in woolly stripes. And pairing that with witty, charming, realistic characters and a hefty dose of suspense–I guess I can’t complain too much, can I?

Stay tuned–review for Land of Stories: Worlds Collide coming soon!

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