Friday, July 13, 2007

The Fairy-Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm, Book 1) by Michael Buckley - review

The Fairy-Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm, Book 1)
by Michael Buckley. Ages 5-12.

Dag frag it. I checked out the cassette version of this book thinking that I wasn't that interested in reading what looked like another fractured fairy tale series, and that I could listen to a couple of chapters and then turn it back in. With its Snicket-y illustrations and big honkin' web site, its obvious echoes of Shrek and Hoodwinked, I just had a feeling that it would turn out to be a hack effort.

I was right. There's nothing new here. There are orphan sisters, the older one disaffected and suspicious, the younger one affectionate and trusting. There is the girls' long-lost family provenance, which gives them access to special tools but which is also a responsibility and a source of danger. Bla bla, disbelief, lack of trust, internal conflict, bla bla, peril to family results in epiphany for distrustful older sister, bla bla, action ensues, most of which is resolved by the use of mechanical plot devices. Devices such as a magic carpet, which will take you anywhere, very fast. Memory erasing dust. Pixies. Excalibur, which will kill anything, even a 200-foot giant, at a scratch.

God those devices make me nuts. Remember how X-Men got terrible as soon as Jean Grey became totally all-powerful? At that point you have to work in all kinds of plot contrivances to disable Jean Grey so that she can't just resolve every situation by turning the bad guy's molecules into wasabi peas and sending them to Saturn.

Same thing has to happen here, and it's lazy writing. The kids need to leave a house without using the door? VoilĂ ! Here are Dorothy's ruby slippers - just click your heels together 3 times and they will take you anywhere you want to go. But... if the slippers can take you anywhere, can they take the children to their parents (who are OF COURSE not dead but only captured by mysterious enemies)? Sure they can - so let's go! We'll get the family reunited and be done with this series right away. But! Awww, the kid dropped a shoe on the run through the forest when the giant was chasing them. Too bad. And by the way why were we running through the forest when she could have just clicked her heels together and gotten out of harm's way? Oh for god's sake. I forget. All that dancing around to make the plot fit the rules makes me weary.

So it appears that I don't like the book. Happens. But why am I so sour about it? Why don't I just return it as planned and move on?

Well, as it happens... my kids love it. LOVE it. Can't wait to climb in the car to go to camp so they can hear more of the story. Are very disappointed if they have to ride in the Civic, which doesn't have a tape player. Their slightly-older friend Fairy Girl, who rides with us in the mornings, has only heard parts of the story, but is as mesmerized as they are.

Kids at the library as old as 12 are seeking it out. I have little choice but to recommend it to readers who have already finished every other fantasy series I can think of, and then those kids come back for more. Dag frag it. Thumbs in my ears.