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