Monday, 12 August 2013

Book review: The Land of Stories - The Enchantress Returns by Chris Colfer

Sometimes I'd like to get sucked into a fairytale world, where I get to wear pretty dresses and run around the woods singing.

Although I'm not quite sure it would be like that, especially if the fairytale world I was getting sucked into was the one created by Chris Colfer in his The Land of Stories series.

The sequel to The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, The Enchantress Returns continues the story of twins Conner and Alex, who in the first novel fell through a book in to the fairytale kingdom, had some adventures, battled some villains, rescued some people and came back into the real world.


A little older now, the twins find themselves falling back into the book, this time to help battle the evil Enchantress, the stuff of Sleeping Beauty's nightmares.


Unlike in the first book, there's a lot more 'real life' stuff in The Enchantress Returns, and it generally works well. Alex and Conner, while dealing with the aftermath of their adventures in the Land of Stories, also have to deal with feelings of abandonment because their grandmother (the Fairy Godmother) has not contacted them in an age, and with all the feelings that come when their mother starts dating someone new. I thought this stuff helped balance out the fairytale elements, although perhaps the real world was explored a little too much (more on that in a bit).

Colfer has an absorbing writing style, and I found myself immersed in the fairytale world he created within the space of a few sentences. I knew I'd be in for a good read as I scanned the final lines of the prologue:

There was no denying it now; the kingdom’s greatest fear had come true.
“The Enchantress,” Sleeping Beauty whispered to herself. “She’s back.”
Unfortunately, Colfer suffers a little of the J.K. Rowling circa Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix here - he's got an editor who didn't use their red pen when they should have done. The Enchantress Returns clocks in at 517 pages, and I'd say at least 100 of those are unnecessary.

Colfer's writing isn't bad, by any means (he's actually a very engaging writer), but I felt the book could have moved a lot faster. After that prologue, it takes around 120 pages for the twins to actually get back to the Land of Stories (although we see glimpses of it in the narrative), which was far too long in my opinion. What comes before this is a lot of setting up, some of which, while sweet and amusing, wasn't relevant to the plot of the novel. And let's be honest, while I want a well-rounded tale, what I really wanted when I read this book was to head into the Land of Stories with Alex and Conner as quickly as possible.

Once in the Land of Stories though, the book ramps up and when the twins finally set off on their adventure proper - a balloon ride across the kingdoms to assemble the Wand of Wanderment to defeat the Enchantress - then it's a rollicking ride all the way to the end.

And the end. Goodness, the end. My heart broke, and then didn't know whether to fix itself or keep breaking. The ending of The Enchantress Returns is just painfully perfect, or perfectly painful, and Colfer knows just how to suck every bit of emotion out of you. It reminded me very much of the way a popular fantasy series ended - I'd tell you which but then you might guess how The Enchantress Returns ends.

On the way to that heartrending ending was a whole load of fun, and some genuinely scary parts. While many favourite, and not-so-favourite, fairytale characters star in The Enchantress Returns, the focus is on four we met in The Wishing Spell but didn't spend masses of time with - Froggy, Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and Jack (as in and the Beanstalk). I like this concentration, and it meant we got to know the characters really well. My favourite was Red, who may be annoying and dim and self-centred, but who I felt had a heart of gold and was really underappreciated by Goldilocks in particular. Sure, she may not be brave and clever, but she played her part in helping forge the Wand of Wonderment, and she has a good soul. While I liked Goldilocks, I didn't like her constant mocking of Red (although Red was hardly kind towards Goldilocks all the time either!).

Colfer makes good use of characters from the first novel - Trollbella is a laugh and the relationship between twins Alex and Conner has grown and is very sweet, as is their relationship with their mum - and introduces some great new ones. Among them are Rumpelstiltskin (not in the book much but who plays a crucial role every time he appears), Mother Goose (hilarious), and the Snow Queen, the Sea Witch and the Enchantress (the first two are really scary and the latter is a whole other layer of evil).

It's not only Colfer who needs to get credit for The Enchantress Returns - the book is beautifully illustrated by Brandon Dorman. The cover is gorgeous (an earlier post of mine mentioning this book saw major love given to the cover and spine), as is the map on the inside covers, but it's the black and white pencil drawings at the start of each chapter that are the real winners. Every time I started a chapter I'd stop after a few sentences and go and stare at the picture at the top of the chapter again.

The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns is an absorbing read. I can forgive its faults because it's a really, really good tale that is generally very well told. Immerse yourself in a familiar yet not familiar fairytale land, and remember to have tissues handy for that ending.

How I got this book: Bought

14 comments:

  1. I haven't yet read the first book, simply because I was wary of another actor spreading his wings into the world of writing. I'm glad he's a good storyteller, but I'll admit I'm still a wee bit hesitant. I love the strong case you've made for it though! Lovely review :)

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    1. I was definitely wary, but I think he has got talent when it comes to telling a story. He's not the world's best writer, but he can weave a tale well, and I enjoyed reading both books. They're not for everyone though!

      Sarah

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  2. Wow.. I have never heard of this.. yet I now want to read it! I'll start with book one and go forward. I especially am intrigued by the sound of a heart-breaking end, and the author's writing style. Also, the book is Gorgeous with a capitol G!

    Great review Sarah! I always love reading your posts :)

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    1. Thanks! Your comment is a great start to my day.

      The ending just had to open-mouthed and not knowing whether to cry or not, so be warned.

      And yes, the books are so gorgeous. I can't praise Brandon Dorman enough for his illustrations.

      Sarah

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  3. I didn't know this book but it's really beautiful! And it sounds like a nice story too!

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    1. It is beautiful. I could just stare at the illustrations for a long time!

      Sarah

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  4. I enjoyed The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns very much. Colfer has an engaging way with a story and characters, all of whom had their own quirks and strengths. Even the chapter titles were entertaining ("A Train of Thoughts" and, in the first book, "A Pact of Wolves"). I was totally enthralled and devoured TLOS2 (easier than the full name) quickly; then wanted to reach for the next one in the series. The one that is certain to be written to follow that emotionally wrenching ending! I won't release spoilers, but the story is gripping and dynamicm and the characters' interactions are witty, but not trite.

    Personally, I very much enjoyed those extra 100 pages, mostly because I was enjoying the wordplay and character development, much as I enjoy the individual brush strokes of a talented artist (which brush strokes would you remove from the Mona Lisa?). Colfer is not yet a Monet or DaVinci and we don't know if he will be, but he IS a very talented young (emphasis) author. This is Colfer's third book within approximately a year period and it is most definitely the best. That being said, I very much enjoyed both of his previous novels, "The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell" and "Struck By Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal".

    TLOS (Colfer's first book) was a very entertaining read, with a well-conceived world and charming characters (pun intended!) That being said, TLOS was very definitely a debut novel, with all of the novice errors that come with that appellation. By TLOS2, those errors have disappeared and the promise shown in the first novel is starting to blossom.

    SBL, Colfer's 2nd novel, is a companion book to his screenplay, "Struck By Lightning", which was written when he was 16 years old. He was requested to do a book, as well. SBL is actually my the book with the greatest personal impact for me, but it is not for everyone. The language is quite intense and the main character, Carson Phillips, is NOT a nice character, though he does grow and mature through the course of the book. SBL had me chuckling and laughing during the first part (while wincing at some language), then sobbing through the end. Oddly, after my emotional roller coaster had come to a full and complete stop, I found myself to be re-energized and determined to continue pursuit of my dreams. Even now, almost two years later, Struck By Lightning continues to encourage me to continue when things are disheartening and failure is all I can see or imagine.

    In summary, The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns is an excellent novel and I highly recommend it. I suggest that one reads the first novel, The Wishing Spell, beforehand. If you find The Wishing Spell to be a bit rough and are not sure whether you want to continue, I do urge you to do so; The Enchantress Returns is well-worth it, and you'll find that you enjoy The Wishing Spell along the way. I find The Enchantress Returns to be comparable to Riordan's Percy and Heroes series and cannot wait to see what Colfer will give us in the future.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by.

      I've got Struck by Lightning to read, but am waiting to watch the film. I'm glad you enjoyed it and it's played a valuable role in your life.

      Sarah

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    2. I really enjoyed TLoS2, more than the first, which was fun but didn't pose as thoughtful questions. I think Alex is an excellent role models for both boys and girls, and even adolescents and adults (such as myself). I agree with the fact that it could have benefitted from an editor's touch. It's about 50 pages too long, and he didn't need to keep using "he said" she said" so often. It got a bit jarring, especially on the audiotape. And I should add that, as with the first book, the first few chapters had to much exposition. I wanted to get to the fairy tale word as soon as possible. There was some necessary set up (e.g., Dr. Bob, the cat, the reason why Connor writes, which will come up toward the end), but not that much (e.g., I didn't need to keep hearing about how Alex was taking a class at the community college or exactly what it was like for Alex and his teacher's interaction--we got that in the first novel).

      What I really liked most about the novel is that it deftly integrated well-known tales into the present day, and was very imaginative, as it toggled between Alex and Connor and their mother and future step-father and well-known fairy tale characters who were given new life. I haven't actually read the book itself--I listened to the entire audiobook, which is quite long but VERY enjoyable, due to Chris's vocal characterizations--but I look forward to turning to it for its wordplay. But listening to it gives you a different experience, and it's clear how it is smartly written and never patronizing. This is why younger and older readers can relate to it. You can tell how much Chris loves writing and story telling and I hope both fans of Chris on Glee and newcomers will give both The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns and its predecessor, The Wishing Spell, a try. I am not in the book's demo audience, and yet it didn't matter, because I found myself very intrigued by the twins' journey, and the ending really made me think about how important compassion is (very Buddhist in fact).

      I'll add that I have seen Struck By Lightning and read Carson's Journal and enjoyed both, but they strike a very different tone than TLoS 1 and 2. They are a bit more what I expected from Chris, given his background, whereas his fairy tale books take us on an entirely unexpected journey. I look forward to the third book!

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    3. I've not listened to the audio books for any of Colfer's novels, although I'm really tempted to. I imagine he'd be very good at the voices and putting across characters' personalities.

      Sarah

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  5. I highly recommend listening to The Land of Stories 1 and 2 on audiotape (don't need to with Carson's Journal, really, b/c it's the same voice he uses as Carson in Struck by Lightning). But his vocal characterizations are extremely impressive and entertaining, particularly Queen Red, Trollbella, Harper, and Mother Goose.

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  6. This will be a long comment but here we go

    I love this book. I really like how the characters are written especially Red, even if she was a brat, I could tell that Red really wants to help and the wolf cub drama really made me chuckle. However with most of the characters being well written there are two characters that I don't enjoy as much... Those characters being Alex and goldilocks. First of all I know many love Alex as character it is only the ending that I do not like. I feel like Conner did nothing in the ending while Alex did. Everything. Plus what was the point in making so much drama with the wand, to later find out it is Not needed
    . What I wish the at athour would have done is that Alex would free everyone at first Intell the enchantress raped everyone back up again, assept Conner. Then together they would defeat her. Plus in the first book Conner and Alex were written like two half's of a whole Alex being the brains, and Conner being the leader. But in this book Alex becomes the leader and the brains and Conner.... Well he still feels like a half. Which annoys me because you can not just have a. Whole and a half can you! Now for Goldi, where is her character? All she does is insult Red and that is it. We know nothing about her character, we don't know what makes her human. Finally how stupid is that ending. First thing does Alex think of her famaly? She is so self-Absorbed she does not even think on how her brother or her famaly. Plus the roles seriously! Alex gets to be an amazing fairy being able to do spells and save the world! While Conner... Has to write about Alex...., so shallow!

    Overall the rating: 3.5 Stars

    Sorry if you are offended by this remember this is my opinion

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