Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Book Review: A Grimm Legacy

A Grimm Legacy by Janna Jennings

Verdict: 2 stars

Recommend: Middle grade, imaginative, but I’d recommend other novels.

Enchanted castles and charming princes thought to exist only in stories come to life in this classically twisted fairy tale that combines the timeless quality of folktales with the challenges of the modern world.

The woods of Elorium appear ordinary to Andi… until the birds start to talk and elves answer doors. Whisked out of her world along with three strangers, Andi finds herself the reluctant guest of Mr. Jackson, a perplexing millionaire who claims to be able to help them get home. The secrets he harbors, however, make it difficult to know just who to trust.

When the group of teenagers discover that in this new world, fiction is anything but, and that they all have unexpected family ties to this fairy tale land, they must learn to rely on each other. The only way to survive evil fairies and giants intent on keeping them in Elorium is to rely on each other.

Faced with characters short on whimsy and bent toward treachery, Andi, Quinn, Fredrick, and Dylan are forced to play their parts in unfinished fairy tales. But in Elorium, happily ever after is never guaranteed.


~*~

Damn it. I wanted to love it. It’s fairytale themed which is one of my favourite genres. The cover is beautiful and magical, and the blurb caught my attention.

I really had to reign in the editor in me here. I found a lot of issues, even for a review copy. Before I get into it, I don’t take pleasure in disliking a novel and I bet the author is a lovely person. Right. Now for my highlights:

It didn’t take many pages for me to feel confused. The story whips by too quickly to really appreciate what’s going on. I didn’t care for the characters because there were too many and they were too busy with the constant new turmoil to have personality. I never thought a book could be too fast-paced, but this leaves out depth and tells way too much – because there isn’t time to show.

Ultimately, the confusion did it for me. I had to keep rereading. Vague sentences, emphasis in the wrong place, and just not enough to grip me personally.

The novel starts with four introductory chapters. Four. Each chapter recalls the four main characters’ lives the moment before they disappear. Alone, each story is interesting and ends in a mysterious way. But combined, I felt like I had just read the first chapters of four rather repetitive stories. I had done a substantial bit of reading but hadn’t had a chance to connect with any of the characters. I wouldn’t recommend using this structure in a novel.

I could have forgiven the choppy, four-prologues-long introduction and inevitable overuse of proper nouns in the prose if some sort of explanation was provided when the four finally meet. Instead, there’s an elf saying he has to take them to his master... eventually. The teenagers proceed to make themselves at home with no further description of where they are or what’s happening. They steal a car, crash, get frozen and turned into birds all within a few minutes of reading.

It felt like I was reading someone’s dream, where bizarre things can happen and events can leap forward with no back-links. I started to feel like I was losing the plot...

Similar to life, the loud characters are easier to remember. This meant that Andi was memorable whereas the rest blurred into a category that I fittingly named ‘the rest’. It’s not just that there were lots of characters, it’s that there were too many main characters with very different lives but not significantly interesting personalities or any defining characteristic.

And why must Quinn always be the one to get kidnapped? Is it because she clogs up the already named-packed narrative? Apart from adding some Indian heritage to this novel, she became a bland side character. I hope she becomes more defined in book 2 because she started so strong! And I did enjoy the fact she was a diverse character. The Brothers Grimm were German after all – it makes no sense for every character to be a white American other than the lack of diversity we see in the media (go Quinn!). Unfortunately, she was probably the least necessary of the four, and the book might have been easier to follow and connect with had she been dropped.

Around 50% in, and fed up of garden path sentences, I decided this book didn’t make much sense. If I regressed every time something was vague, confusing, illogical, or jumped around, then I would have never finished it.

So I changed tactic.

I used what I will now dub ‘the thick skimming technique’, where I kept moving forwards at a brisk pace whether it made sense or not, which is what the writing style tended to do on its own. If you’re a fast and light reader, then perhaps you’ll find this book very fitting. Its strength is definitely the pace.

In this fairy tale realm, I found the references to brands a bit distracting. Chanel. Louis Vuitton handbags. They even had cell phones. How? Why? How much contact with the regular world does Elorium have? It’s an unanswered mystery, and raises more questions than it answers.

Sometimes the plot did have obvious holes in it. Instead of stitching them up, we’re told in a clunky fashion that ‘but you can’t do that’. The author notices there’s a potential flaw and essentially tells the reader ‘no, that would ruin my plot’. I shrugged and got on with the story, but as I said before, it’s easier to skim this book than read it.

I hate the phrase ‘show don’t tell’ because it’s so vague and not always correctly used. But the connection between the four teenagers is forced. They only know each other for a few measly seconds before they’re familiar and know what is and isn’t ‘characteristic’ of the other. I didn’t know it wasn’t characteristic because I haven’t really met Fredrick yet.

And modifiers! Description should be more than just nouns and verbs with adjectives and adverbs in front of them. Most could be scrapped to no ill effect. ‘Exaggerated overreaction’ was a particular low point. If it’s an overreaction, we gather that it’s exaggerated.

The language often took odd turns. For a middle grade book, words like ‘perturbed’ and ‘unperturbed’ felt out of place (yes, both were mentioned and rather close together), especially as the rest of the lexis was simple. Lots of information was either ‘forthcoming’ or ‘no other information was forthcoming’. It felt like a robotic way of stating something that didn’t need to be said.

A Grimm Legacy did have redeeming qualities. I didn’t feel bored because, although sometimes I lost the plot, it moved on so quickly that I could pick it back up again for the next surprising event. The author must be a very creative spirit. It’s fast paced and entertaining at the very least. I also thought the chapter titles were clever. Strange quotes from the narrative were picked out which intrigued me to read on as well as showed the quirks of the novel. I enjoyed the quirkiness (where it worked). If only it worked more.

Essentially, I didn’t connect with it at all. I’ve read better novels sentenced around fairy tales. It’s awkward and a bit confusing, but mildly entertaining. I enjoyed skimming it more than reading it. I’m glad I didn’t request the sequel!