Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns - Chris Colfer




I had said after I read The Wishing Spell that I was not going to finish Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories series.  Yet, here I am writing a blog post about The Enchantress Returns, the second book in the series.  Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment.  I had no emotional attachment to this novel prior to starting it.  I am not at all emotionally invested in the stories.  So, before I started The Enchantress Returns, I turned on my Kindle, went to the Storefront, found this book and read some of the reviews.  The book had a higher rating than The Wishing Spell, and more 4 and 5 star reviews. So, I figured maybe Colfer had found his voice, improved his writing, and came out with a book that WOULDN’T make me want to bash my head on the table, or bore me to tears.  I was wrong.  Trust me when I tell you that this book is just as poorly written as the first book in the series (and I expect that books 3 and 4 will follow in their predecessors’ footsteps.)

The novel opens with Queen Sleeping Beauty and her husband throwing a party to celebrate the end of another curse that was placed on their kingdom.  Queen Sleeping Beauty has decided that she would like to go to sleep – something she hadn’t done since the sleeping curse on her kingdom had ended.  That’s right – she hasn’t slept in over 10 years.  Shortly after she has fallen asleep, Queen Sleeping Beauty is roused by several of her guards, who proceed to drag her out of the castle, not really giving her much of an explanation as to why, but simply telling her that her life is in danger. 
Queen Sleeping Beauty is brought somewhere safe, where she will stay with the rest of the Happily-Ever-After Council while the trouble is being resolved.  The Council, along with the guards from the differing Land of Stories Kingdoms will be trying to solve the issue of the Enchantress – since she has now returned to the Land of Stories.  Ezmia, the name of the Enchantress, has kidnapped Alex and Connor’s mom in an attempt to bring about a new reign of terror (but she thinks that the twins’ mom is really Alex.) 

Throughout the novel, there are some…. Interesting things that happen.  (If you are familiar with people from the upper Midwest, you know that we often say something is interesting as a way of being polite.  We usually mean we don’t like something, or think it’s dumb.  I’ll leave you to figure out whether or not I am using the Minnesota Interesting.)  So, in the novel, the twins find a way to their grandma’s house and get sucked into The Land of Stories via a painting (AFTER bluntly saying that it worked in the Chronicles of Narnia, so why wouldn’t it work for them.)  Once they get to the LOS, they meet up with Froggy, go to Queen Red Riding Hood’s castle, help build a ship out of old dresses and baskets, hide under Red’s extremely large skirted dress for, like, an hour, and meet Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy Gale, Lucy Pevensie, and Wendy Darling.  Bob, Charlotte’s boyfriend, ends up in the LOS, Charlotte and Bob get married, then Charlotte, Bob and Connor finally get sent back to their world, while Alex stays behind to get trained by her grandma – to become the fairy godmother. 

Now, look, I can certainly imagine a fairy tale land, with talking frogs, fanciful flying machines, queens who are vain, evil villains, etc.  I mean, I’ve read a lot of old fairy tales.  I’ve read the Harry Potter books.  I’ve read Marissa Meyers Lunar Chronicles series.  I am certainly no stranger to wonderful and fanciful fantasy and fairy tale stories and retellings.  However, my trip through the Land of Stories has not been as enjoyable as I would have liked for it to be. 

I was hoping after the first book that Colfer’s writing would have improved a bit.  I was wrong in holding onto this hope.  I found the sentence structure to be weak, and many of the characters to be undeveloped or unchanged.  There was no growth for certain characters from the first novel to this one (even though an entire year has passed.) There were also just a few things that I found confusing in this novel.  For example, Bob decides that he wants to marry Charlotte.  So, he goes to their house, sits down with Alex and Conner, and talks to them about what he wants.  At the beginning of the chapter in which he speaking to them about proposing, the beginning paragraph of the chapter says:

“Alex and Connor hadn’t looked like identical twins since they were four years old.  It was around that age when Charlotte stopped dressing them in the same outfits every day and they had started growing into their own unique features.  But as they sat on the couch both staring daggers at Bob with their arms crossed, it was once again hard to tell them apart.”

Okay: 1. Boy and girl twins are always fraternal.  Always.  Even if they look alike.  This is not a hard thing to figure out.  2. Alex is a girl and Conner is a boy.  In addition to the, Alex has longer hair and Conner has short hair.  Is Bob really so dense that he can’t tell them apart and thinks they look identical even though one is a boy one’s a girl?  3. Why in the name of all that good in this world was their mother dressing them in identical clothing, especially to the age 4?  This needs to be said: They are not the same person, they are not identical twins, they are a BOY and a GIRL, and they should have been dressed in different clothes!!!!!!!!!!

That is certainly not the only sentence/paragraph in the novel that made me scratch my head and say "Huh?"  (Not to mention just weird scenes in general.)

On page 139, Froggy (the Prince who was turned into a Frog) says: "Children, you know I care about you, but-" and Connor rudely interrupts by yelling out "WE'RE NOT CHILDREN.... Everyone keeps calling us that and I'm sick of it!  We shouldn't have to prove ourselves after everything we've been through already.  It's not like we're a couple of irresponsible kids sneaking into a party - we're two young adults trying to save our mother's life."  

Please.  These characters just turned 13.  They are hardly young adults.  Sure, they may be able to problem solve better than, say, a 5 year old or an 8 year old, but they are surely not old enough or mature enough to handle things the way older teenagers or adults can.  They are still developing a lot of the skills that teens even 2 to 3 years older than them already know. 

 In Chapter seven, Mother Goose gets charged with taking care of Alex and Conner, because Xanthous must return to the land of stories.  Around page 108, Mother Goose goes on a drinking binge with  several of the guards.  The guards all get so drunk that they pass out at the kitchen table.  At this point, Alex sneaks into the kitchen, talks to Mother Goose, pours Mother Goose more alcohol and gets her even drunker.  There is literally no valid reason for Mother Goose getting so intoxicated that she can barely see straight while taking care of kids, nor is there any reason that Alex should be pouring more booze for Mother Goose to drink!  That is not at all an appropriate thing to have in a kids book.  

Later, when Alex and Connor are actually in the Land of Stories, the book becomes a bit more adult like, with a few sexual innuendos thrown in.  For example, on page 253, when everyone is getting ready to ride horses out to the woods, Connor gets stuck with a horse named Buckle (named because he keeps bucking people off.)  Goldilocks is riding a horse named Porridge, and when Goldilocks asks Porridge to help contain Buckle, the following paragraph says: 

"Porridge rolled her eyes at Buckle.  Buckle snorted at Porridge almost flirtatiously.  It made the twins a little uncomfortable - obviously there was a history with the horses, a history they weren't interested in learning."

13 year olds are just beginning to go through puberty.  They are just beginning to learn about sexual stuff.  So, it doesn't seem logical, unless Alex and Connor are very advanced and intelligent, that they would know anything about flirting or sexual stuff between two HORSES!  There is also a lot of eye flirting from Red towards Jack, even though Jack is married to Goldilocks. 

 In addition to the poor writing in this book, there is also not a lot of character development.  They characters are all basically the same as they were in the last book, and don't change at all from the beginning of this book to the end.  Alex is still a book worm obsessed with school and doing well, Red is still a spoiled brat who thinks that everyone owes her everything, Trollbella is still the same spoiled, disgusting troll queen as she was in the first novel.  Nobody. Ever. Develops!  

Colfer, from what I've seen around the internets, has written a fourth book in the series, due out in June, and is planning on releasing a bunch of short stories that take place in the world of the Land of Stories.  I can't help but send out a plea to Colfer to just stop writing for a while and do some research on actually well written kids and teen books.  Read some J.K Rowling (Harry Potter, of course), Marissa Meyer (of The Lunar Chronicles), some Soman Chainani (The School for Good and Evil), or some Jenni Nimmo (Charlie Bone).  All of the books written by these authors show excellent fantasy stories that are well written, well constructed, and perfect for kids and teens.  Maybe after reading some of these books, and then writing a lot and getting some serious critiques, maybe Colfer can write a good book actually worthy of being read.

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