The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I enjoy fairy tale retellings. Some are better than others, but this one sounded worth a try.
Sabrina and Daphne Grimm's parents have vanished. Ever since, they've been stuck in the foster care system, shuttled from one terrible house to the next, accepted nowhere. Then a woman comes forward claiming to be their grandmother. The problem is, their father told them their grandmother was dead.
It turns out the grandmother is the guardian of a secret in her hometown of Ferryport Landing in upstate New York. The town is populated with the fairy tale characters (Ever Afters) who came to the US to escape European persecution. They need to be kept secret, for their own protection. But they don't always make that easy.
They're not all from fairy tales. Prince Charming, Jack of giant-killing fame, the three little pigs and big bad wolf, the magic mirror from Snow White, and several others make an appearance. So does Puck, the trickster fairy from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Of course that's above the girls' heads, so they initially take him for Peter Pan. He never quite forgives them for not recognizing him.
Many of the Ever Afters play against type. Prince Charming is arrogant and greedy, and the big bad wolf isn't so bad. Puck's insistence that he's a bad guy is hard to swallow, considering how often he helps Sabrina and Daphne, and Mrs. Grimm's affection for him. She treats him like a third grandchild, and he never argues, despite the fact he's older than her by centuries.
The mystery revolves around a farmer's house being crushed. All signs point to a giant, who's easily located. When the giant takes Mrs. Grimm, it's up to the girls to find a way to beat the giant.
The story is told in a very kid-friendly way. Most violence happens where the girls (and the audience) don't see. Death is shied away from. The scariest thing in the story is bitey pixies. These are the sanitized versions of fairy tales the girls are interacting with.
But the book is told in that patronizing, talking-down-to-its-audience way. Things are spelled out and simplified in a way I doubted its younger readers would need. Characters pout far more often than is warranted. Whenever a big word comes up, the characters explain through dialogue what it means.
Another unfortunate aspect of the book is that, for all their bravery and resourcefulness, Sabrina and Daphne function mostly as witnesses to the story's conclusion. They get to contribute, and it wouldn't have been a happy ending without them, but it's disappointing to watch them stand around while the grownups handle things for the last few pages.
This book is excellent for middle grade readers who've run out of fairy tales to read. It's not as enjoyable for adults, but it is cute.
I listened to this book on audio, narrated by L.J. Ganser. The gritty narration seemed like an odd choice for a kids' book told in the perspective of two girls, but it worked. The narrator spoke clearly, and distinguished the different characters' dialogue nicely. The narrator was no Jim Dale, but he was a good choice for this book.
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