Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Enchantress Returns

The Enchantress Returns
by Chris Colfer
Recommended Ages: 10+

Collection spells are not just for debt collectors who want to put the hoodoo on a delinquent customer. In Chris Colfer's Land of Stories series, they are the framework for a quest-like adventure through a magic world teeming with fairy-tale heroes and villains. The first book, The Wishing Spell, was all about a shopping list of magical items that twins Alex and Conner Bailey needed to assemble in order to get home to the "Other World" (namely, ours). It could only ever be used one more time, and the Evil Queen from Snow White wanted to get there first. Now in their second visit to the Land of Stories, Alex and Conner are trying to complete one collection spell, while the Enchantress from The Sleeping Beauty races to finish another. The twins' goal is to create the Wand of Wonderment, whose wielder is invincible, so the Enchantress can be stopped. She, on the other hand, only wants to take over the whole fairy-tale world, and then get started on the Other World.

Fans of cracked fairy tales will love this book's mash-up of Rumpelstiltskin, the Little Mermaid, the Snow Queen, Jack and the Beanstalk, and many other stories, as the twins search for the most prized possession of the seven most hated villains in the Land of Stories. Glee cast-member Colfer proves again that he is more than just a pretty face, as he explores the private lives of folkloric monsters with a touch ranging from heart-touching tragedy to grim horror.

When I listened to Colfer's own audio-book reading, I came to appreciate his hammy side, as he fearlessly put distinctive voices to many characters. He seemed especially fond of voicing the rough-living Mother Goose, the operatic enchanted harp, and the spoiled Queen Red Riding Hood. In comparison, his narrator-voice sounded disappointingly flat and rushed. But I have read one of his books in hard copy too, and even though his vocal performance may not fully do it justice, his work is very entertaining. The old stories come together in a creative new way, investing old and new characters with hilarious attitudes and romantic feelings. One particular scene, in which Alex takes counsel with a quartet of storybook heroines, got me choked up for some reason. His text is riddled with pop-culture Easter eggs that both kids and adults will delight in finding, from a sneaky Harry Potter reference to a line from a Mel Brooks movie. My favorite line: "Witch, please!"

In the end, however, something develops that will put fans of the series through an emotional wringer, at least until they collect the third book in the series. A Grimm Warning came out in July 2014. Colfer's other work includes the YA novel Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal, which was made into a film starring the author himself.

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