Over the past seven years, Chris Colfer has firmly established himself in the children’s fantasy canon. With a prolific fifteen titles to his name, the majority of which are New York Times Bestsellers, any new title to come from Colfer is one to take note of and seek out ASAP. However, when that new title is from the same world as his beloved The Land of Stories series, which wrapped in 2017 with the sixth and final novel, Worlds Collide, embarking on this new magical adventure is a no-brainer. Just like its number 1 New York Times Best Sellers achievement or the fact that it is now almost a month and a half since the book’s release and A Tale of Magic… is at Number 3 having only dropped from Number 1 this week. If all that isn’t enough to have whet your appetite for Colfer’s latest offering, read on.
Set decades before the action of The Land of Stories series, A Tale of Magic… takes us back to the dark days of the Fairy Tale World, before there even was a Fairy Kingdom. The individual Kingdoms are isolated and inward looking, magic is despised and has been outlawed forcing any mythical or magical creature into the desolate land of The In-Between in the centre of the land, and women are forbidden to read. It is into this world that Brystal Evergreen is born in the Southern Kingdom.
The book opens with Brystal now fourteen years old, a curious, intelligent, book-loving girl that knows she’s destined for greater things. Frustrated by the rigid constraints and expectations placed on females in the Kingdom, Brystal has to find creative ways to acquire access to her beloved books and knowledge. All her prayers seem answered when she discovers the local library is hiring a maid and lands the job giving her unrestricted and unsupervised access to the library after hours. Her life truly changes forever, however, on the day that she uncovers a secret section of the library and finds a book about magic.
Despite being well aware of the severe consequences the book may bring — Brystal’s curiosity gets the best of her. By reading some of the text aloud, strange phenomena begin to occur and Brystal discovers that she is actually a fairy capable of magic! After being caught and swiftly convicted for her crimes, she is sent to the miserable Bootstrap Correctional Facility, only to be rescued by the Mysterious Madame Weatherberry, who takes her away to her Academy of Magic to begin her training as a fairy. However, when Madame Weatherberry keeps disappearing to the North, only to return the worse for wear, Brystal and her fellow students discover a sinister plot that puts the fate of the world, and the fate of magic itself, in grave danger.
A Tale of Magic… is some of Colfer’s best work to date. It builds on the sense of adventure, action and fantasy that was wonderfully set out in The Land of Stories series and creates a beautiful, though frighteningly accurate reflection of the current state of the western world. Gay rights, conversion therapy, censorship of knowledge, finding your tribe that accepts and celebrates you for who you are, are just some of the themes that Colfer touches on in the novel. He really has come into his own in his ability to craft and weave important life lessons into a charming escapade for all.
Colfer has a real knack for writing excellent female protagonists and Brystal Evergreen joins Alex Bailey, Goldie, Red, and Trollbella from The Land of Stories series. She’s feisty, she’s intelligent, she has an inner strength that enables her to overcome so many obstacles that are placed in her way. She is a fun new character that you quickly fall in love with and want to see escape the Southern Kingdom and just have the opportunity to live up to her potential.
Madame Weatherberry is an interesting character. Full of wonder, awe and mystery, she is always kept just out of reach and her motives and actions you never quite can see or understand. Lucy Goose is a wonderful mix of Red’s vanity and Trollbella’s energy and theatricality. She takes some time to warm up to, but is so much fun once you do.
Along with the new characters, we are also introduced to some much younger versions of some familiar fairies from The Land of Stories… Tangerina, Skylene, Emeralda and Xanthous. They are all just learning about their skills and controlling their magic and it’s great to have their stories expanded.
My only real criticism of the book is the pace, however, as the first book in a new series (Colfer is planning a trilogy for this new series), the slower establishing material that makes up the first half of the novel is understandable. The second half of the novel, once we get to the Academy of Magic and the real action starts to unfold, is a pager turner filled with fun, exciting and unexpected twists and turns in plot and character that leaves you shouting with joy as everything is finally revealed (no spoilers for those of you yet to finish the book) and eager for the next book and seeing where Colfer will take us next. While this is a standalone new series, your enjoyment will definitely be enhanced having already read The Land of Stories.
A Tale of Magic… is out now.