Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

I don't feel like this book should qualify as YA fiction as the genre stands today. Themes in YA novels are more complex nowadays than what's included in this book. That doesn't make it any less of an exciting adventure to read, but I'd recommend it more for an elementary school student than a junior higher.

That being said, what book isn't fun to read when it takes you on an adventure among well-known fairy tale characters? Alex and Conner, twins who've recently lost their dad in a tragic car accident, are turning 12. Their grandma hands them down a book of fairy tales read to them as young children. The kids are struggling with all the changes to their lives since their father's death and the book gives them something familiar to hold onto. Alex especially clings to the stories - reading them doesn't make her feel so alone.

That's when the magic kicks in and suddenly the twins are transported to a world where fairy tales are real. The Charming brothers have almost all found their princesses and Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel all have kingdoms to look after. The twins are trapped in this world and must collect a series of items to enact the Wishing Spell so they can return home.

Along the way, the twins meet many iconic storybook characters, learn more about the land they've fallen into, and uncover secrets and themselves and their family. It's a fast read because the story doesn't really ever slow down, and it's a fun read because you already know most of the characters and can kind of guess where the story is heading.

Would I recommend an adult pick this up for a quick read like I did? Not really. But, reading it with or to your favorite third grader sounds like a wonderful activity.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

This book is ultimately about a quest to save magic. It has all the makings of an epic journey - long travel, many obstacles, singular hero whose payoff in the end isn't as expected. The quest however has two starting points, one for Quentin who, as King of the magical realm, Fillory sets out on a sea voyage to far away islands and one for Julia, a Fillorian Queen whose foray into magic impacts the whole plot. Both characters are actually from Earth, Brooklyn to be exact, lucky enough to be gifted the ability to use magic.

We met both characters in The Magicians  as Quentin matriculated at Brakebills, a secret college for magic and then went on to discover Fillory's existence. Julia's history is a bit of a mystery. She learned magic on the "streets" having not gained admittance to Brakebills. We get her complete story here as the narrative jumps from her past to the present which focuses on Quentin.

And that basically covers the general plot. Too much happens to know which details to extract here and take you further into the story. I don't want to give too much away. The basis of the quest is to locate a series of keys. Aside from the final purpose these keys have, they're also able to open invisible doors to other lands. You can go through them but can't return to Fillory since the key always stays behind. In this way, the quest takes Quentin and company back to Earth as well as to the Neitherlands, a sort of transportation terminal with openings between worlds. On these side trips, Quentin reconnects with characters from The Magicians and learns more about the state of magic throughout all worlds.

Grossman turns magic into a gritty, violent, passionate thing. It's not pretty. It's often coated in desperation. This is probably what magic would really be like. I like how the fantasy genre is turned sideways with the fantastical tempered by danger, death, and sadness. You feel like you're getting a complete picture of magic as it would be.

I have no idea where the story will go in the third and final book in this trilogy, but I'm happy to say that I'm interested in finding out.