A Grimm Warning
In the third book from the Land of Stories, Alex and Connor are living in separate worlds, both dealing with some struggles and learning to navigate their worlds as individuals. Alex is in training to become the next Fairy Godmother, and Connor is working to survive middle school. He has a teacher who sees promise in his writing, encouraging him and allowing him to be part of a school trip to Germany related to the Brothers Grimm. In Germany, Connor recognizes a message in a newly discovered story by the Brothers Grimm, realizing that the Fairy Tale World is in danger from the Grande Armée. He sets off across Germany with his school friend and crush, Bree, to find a way back into the fairy tale world. Meanwhile in the Fair Tale World, Alex is dealing with difficulties developing her magic and interest in a boy, while villains plot to take advantage of the Grande Armée’s arrival.
As in the previous book, we find the Fairy Tale World in danger, and the twins need to come together to save it. This one moves away from the “scavenger hunt” plot that was used in the previous two novels. At this point in the series, the majority of the characters are established, and Colfer begins with some more original story lines (rather than building directly from the fairy tales as in prior books). There is much more build up and suspense used in this than seen before, which makes this a very different type of story. The novel does not wrap up quite as nicely, without a completely happy ending. While the Fairy Tale World is saved for the moment, the Fairy Godmother has died (“returned to magic”), Alex has lost faith in her developing crush, and the Masked Man is still on the loose. We also have our first true cliffhanger of the series— in the final chapter, when Alex encounters the Masked Man, she sees beneath his mask and recognizes the face of her father!
Beyond the Kingdoms
The fourth book in this series kicks off a whirlwind of activity that flurries through the final three books. Alex and Connor are in pursuit of the Masked Man, believing him to be their presumed-dead father. While this is happening, Alex is continuing to deal with problems related to her magic, spells not going as planned and difficulty controlling her emotions leading to unintentionally harming those around her. The Witches are working with the Masked Man to disrupt life in the Fairy Tale World, while they secretly prepare for a show down. Alex and Connor do learn the truth about the Masked Man, and also discover his ultimate plan: he has made a portal portion that will allow him to enter any written work, and he has begun to recruit an army of villains from class literature. The twins chase him through various stories, attempting to stop him, but also recruiting the heroes of many tales to help them.
With this book, the series has shifted into considerably darker territory. We get a bit of a throwback to the original books with a miniature scavenger hunt plot included, as the twins gather what is needed to make their own portal potion. However, this is not the main plot of the book, which really starts to move when they are on the trail of the Masked Man through the classic tales. There is some good and bad character development here—Red, who is a hysterical but often annoying character, seems to grow up a bit and come into her own; Alex, however, does not fair so well with the transition from ambitious young girl to angsty, melodramatic teenager. Overall, the book feels busy: there is a ton going on here, and much of it is set up for the conclusion to the series. I occasionally found myself getting annoyed with the introduction of new plot points, especially in the latter half when I knew there was not enough left to resolve then satisfactorily. There is a main cliffhanger at the end of the book, which almost serves as an introduction to the next, but also many other unresolved story lines.