Book 12 in my challenge to read one book (I haven’t read before) a fortnight in 2012 is The Land of Stories – The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer.
Yes, this book is written by the same Chris Colfer who plays Kurt in Glee. That’s the reason I bought it, but the reason I kept reading it was because it’s actually quite good.
The Land of Stories – The Wishing Spell follows twins Conner and Alex Bailey as they fall into a fairytale book and find themselves in the land of fairytales, where all their favourite, and not so favourite, characters are actually real. To get back to their world, they must gather all the elements to make the wishing spell, which will grant them anything they wish.
Alex and Conner are likeable characters – Alex is a goody two shoes who is completely endearing because she genuinely cares, and Conner is a typical almost-teenage boy, getting into trouble but with a heart of gold under it all.
It’s the fairytale characters, though, who held my attention. Colfer’s take on popular characters such as Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks was interesting, and gave well known and loved, or hated, characters a new edge. I particularly liked that some characters had unexpected personality traits, and that those I thought would have likeable alternative stories actually turned out to be a bit annoying, and vice versa.
Colfer has said in interviews he came up with the idea for The Land of Stories when he was eight, and it shows. There’s clearly a child’s imagination at work here, and since children’s imaginations offer more freedom than an adult’s, that means the world in the book is wonderfully created, and took me back to my childhood, where anything was possible.
Much as I loved the story, I do feel the writing could have been better. Colfer wrote The Land of Stories in between other projects (including filming Glee, going on tour, and writing and filming his first feature-length film) and I think it shows a little. Some of the story feels a little rushed, while other bits feel a little basic and undeveloped.
There’s also the way that chapters don’t always seem to flow. Rather, The Land of Stories reads more like a screenplay at times, which would make sense since Colfer spends his day reading television scripts and previously wrote a screenplay. Both of those require a little less detail than a book, as there comes a point when it’s the director and actors’ responsibility to fill in the gaps. However, a book does require a little more, and sometimes the space in between chapters seemed to have something missing.
In addition, Alex and Conner often fall into and out of trouble too easily. They spend a chapter fighting a baddie, and then suddenly in the next chapter they’re walking down a path in a forest having escaped. The book is clearly episodic, and I would have liked some more narrative flow.
Still, Colfer does have a way with words, and weaves some beautiful lines. Among my favourite is one right at the beginning:
But what the world fails to realise is that a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.
Colfer is clearly a very talented writer, and as he is writing a sequel to this book, I hope his editor is a little stricter with him, so the second book reads more like a book than a play.
One thing that deserves a mention is the illustrations in the book, done by Brandon Dorman. They’re stunning, and I only wish the British version of the book included the map of The Land of Stories that is apparently in the American print.
The Land of Stories is a children’s book in one sense – it’s about fairytales, its protagonists are children, it’s a story of good versus bad (or not). But Colfer’s fan base, largely teenage girls and older women, means that there are probably more older people reading this book than children. And the thing is, this book really works for that audience. As said earlier, The Land of Stories takes me back to childhood, taps into the parts of my imagination I let gather dust as I grew up. That’s the sign of a good book, one that takes you out of your world and into someone else’s. I definitely found myself in Alex and Conner’s world, and it’s not a bad place to be.