Book Review: The Sisters Grimm #7 – 9

Title: The Everafter War; The Inside Story; The Council of Mirrors
Author: Michael Buckley
Year of Publication: 2009; 2010; 2012
Series: The Sisters Grimm
#: 7, 8 & 9
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.31; 4.28; 4.39
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3; 2; 2

SERIOUS AND MAJOR SPOILERS (Especially for Book 9) INCLUDED.
Don’t even think about reading this book unless you don’t care about spoilers. 

Also, REALLY long review. Sorry, but there was a LOT to rant about.

Plot Description: The final three books in this series are darker, edgier, and the plots get more wilder and implausible than ever. To add to this mess, there’s more sexism and problematic plot points, story lines that drag on forever, and TERRIBLE editing and continuity issues.
To summarize, The Everafter War deals with a Civil War between factions led by Charming and the Queen of Hearts respectively. Oh, and the children’s parents are finally awake – which is not the good thing I was hoping it would be. The Big Bad is finally revealed, and while this reveal is impressive at first, I was progressively less impressed and more annoyed by the Master’s plan, motivations, minions… everything.
The Inside Story is a bizarre and completely meta journey through the original book with which the fates of all the Everafters are entwined. Sabrina and Daphne follow the Master through all the fairytale stories as they try to stop the Master from rewriting their story.
The Council of Mirrors features the final showdown/ battles/ curses et cetera et cetera. It also features what was possibly the most random subplot; inserted as the most random plot twist ever, and about which I’m completely conflicted.

While Sabrina and Daphne are finally beginning to show signs of solid character development, the appearance of their parents on the scene kind of sets the whole family back by about ten steps. To be more specific, it turns out the girls’ dad is a controlling idiot who won’t listen to reason, doesn’t consider his daughters’ opinions worth listening to despite everything they’ve achieved so far, and follows a policy of requiring strict obedience. Including from his wife.

Suddenly, the girls’ mother getting involved with the Faerie in NYC is put into greater perspective. She went to great lengths to keep her activities secret even though she was standing up for something she believed in – all because her husband will throw a temper tantrum and ‘forbid’ her from doing things he doesn’t like.

[Full disclosure: The girls’ father is only unreasonable when it comes to Everafters, and that’s because he watched his father die because of them/ at their hands or something else. This, however, does not excuse a grown man for dragging his family out into the woods in the midst of a war, with NO plan, NO money or supplies, and NO agenda except for ‘you’re all supposed to just listen to me’. ]

One of the characters in the book tries a retcon justification for his behaviour by calling him the ‘protector’ of the family. But dude, no.

I think this nonsense about confusing protection (and the affection that comes with it) with the need to control people needs to stop, and it needs to stop NOW. Too many fathers and other kinds of paternalistic figures have justified the most unacceptable kinds of behaviour by claiming that they were acting in the best interests of their dependents. And this is despite the fact that in a LOT of these cases, their behaviour when evaluated from an objective perspective was found to NOT to be in the best interests of their dependents.

Clearly Mr. Grimm isn’t the only person to ever have engaged in such nonsense behaviour, and he certainly won’t be the last… but let’s not confuse protection with control, and let’s not ignore this issue.

From an objective plot perspective, The Inside Story is convoluted and largely unnecessary. It’s clear by this point that the story is being stretched as thin as it can be without it falling apart.

But I won’t deny that The Inside Story was kind of fun to read. It’s every reader’s fantasy to be able to step into their favourite books and get to enact parts of it out – maybe even change stuff around. To suddenly be the star of your favourite show – that’s what this book is all about.

And that brings us to The Council of Mirrors and an end to this whole… experience (for lack of a nicer word). The final scenes of the story involve Snow White – a character who has always been a part of the story without really taking centre stage at any point of it. Her on-off relationship with Charming is one of the running gags throughout the stories. Snow is someone who actively works to shed herself of the damsel in distress tag – she’s a Ferryport self defence instructor, and she refuses to allow Charming’s self absorption to define her or their relationship.

In the final plot, it is revealed that the story of Snow White has been faked – it wasn’t the version included in the original Grimm stories. In the real version, she’s married off to a sadistic and abusive husband, at whose hands she dies. Unable to watch her daughter’s life play out in this manner over and over again, her mother – the Evil Queen – steps in to modify the story and edit the abusive husband out of it (replacing him with herself as the villain instead). Charming, the sadistic Prince’s younger brother, was written into the story as Snow’s love interest, and that was that.

Or it would have been, if Sabrina and Daphne (and the Master) hadn’t crashed through the Fairytale book in which he had been trapped, and freed him. In a final showdown between this man and Charming, (after Snow has been kidnapped and taken away as the guy’s lawful wife – and property), he’s finally overpowered. It took like, a bunch of people to get the job done. And then Snow delivers the killing stroke – and with that action supposedly reclaims her identity and her life.

Heavy stuff, huh. At first I felt it a little inappropriate – introducing such a horrible sub plot into what’s essentially a book for children. But then I remembered that the original tales by the real brothers Grimm had been graphic, gory and ugly.

This evocation of the spirit of the original tales – be it conscious or unconscious – seems to be a theme in the Sisters Grimm series. I was discussing Sleeping Beauty a few days ago, and we were talking about how in the original story, the Prince rapes her in her sleep, causing her to become pregnant and to deliver twins – whilst still asleep. She only woke up when one of the twins accidentally sucked the cursed flax/ needle out of her finger.

At the time, I couldn’t remember where I’d read something similar. At least, not until I began reviewing books 4 – 6 of this series. The girls’ mother, Veronica, is pregnant at the time when she’s kidnapped by the Master along with her husband and put into an enchanted sleep for two years. She delivers the baby while in her sleep – because yes, THAT’S how childbirth works. (I don’t know why he didn’t just throw a stork in there too, just for kicks.)

I mentioned in my review of Books 1 – 3 that I had issues with the subtextual messages being sent by this series. In addition to the conflation of protection and controlling & my issues with this trivializing of subjects like childbirth and murder (remember the juvenile homicidal maniacs from book 2?), I find the way Snow White’s story was resolved extremely problematic.

For one thing, that entire subplot was completely unnecessary to the plot – the homicidal husband was never a part of the Master’s plan – so clearly it was thrown in there because Buckley thought this a masterful retelling of the story on his part. Now, I’ve mentioned that he has managed to that very thing with the story of Little Red Riding Hood earlier.

But whatever worked for that subplot does NOT work for this one. For one thing, trauma is not easily or instantaneously gotten over. If years of training herself hasn’t helped her yet, putting a knife through a man she didn’t even help overpower is not going to do it. Life’s not that easy, and if you’re going to try and make it “realistic” for the kids by including homicidal husband storylines, then you really ought not to pull a last minute cop out and wrap it up neatly in a very unrealistic bow.

The final three books in the Sisters Grimm bring a series that started out promising to a very disappointing (and badly edited) finish. The story was dragged out unnecessarily, and at times, it felt like the only thing keeping Buckley’s universe together was a thin strand of fiction – which is the only thing every character and subplot in this series have in common after all.

Next Review: Bloodlines #1 – Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

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Book Review: The Sisters Grimm # 4 – 6

Title: Once Upon A Crime; Magic and Other Misdemeanours; Tales From the Hood
Author: Michael Buckley
Year of Publication: 2007; 2007; 2008
Series: The Sisters Grimm
#: 4, 5 & 6
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.25; 4.28; 4.28
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3; 3; 3

A Few Spoilers are Inevitable

This review covers books four to six of The Sisters Grimm series. I’m your reviewer for the day, and if I sound a tad automated, it’s because I’m too tired to be witty.

*Puts on Damon Salvatore voice*

Once Upon Crime finally lets the sisters, their grandmother and the whole Scooby Gang out of the miserable little town that is Ferryport. They head to NYC, which is where the Faerie Kingdom holds court (duh) for the purpose of saving Puck’s life (he was injured by the Jabberwocky in the previous book). While they’re there, they fall headlong into the assassination of Puck’s father, Oberon, King of the Faeries. No prizes for guessing who the prime suspects are!

Literally the only interesting thing to come out of this book in the long term is the fact that Sabrina comes face to face with her mother’s legacy involving Everafters, finally allowing her to make peace with her family’s history to some extent for the first time. She basically ends up finding it difficult to hold on to her bigotry so hard when her mother was obviously an active supporter.

A supposedly funny subplot in Once Upon A Crime is the way Puck, while incapacitated in his healing cocoon (a large and smelling eggplant like structure that floats around) picks Sabrina to be his chosen guardian – instead of his fiancee, whom they discover when they reach the Faerie Court. Sabrina finds the cocoon disgusting and embarrassing, and she has to deal with the fiancee’s anger on top of everything else.

I get that this is supposed to be some kind of love triangle, but all I saw was a pair of pre-teens being catty to each other over a boy. Don’t we have enough stories of this sort flying about in the world already? Buckley tries to do a good job of writing in defences against casual and/ or internalized sexism in his stories, but they just keep creeping in!!!

[Honestly, this is a theme that will only get more pronounced as we progress through the series.]

Magic and Other Misdemeanours once again deals with a series of thefts – of magical objects, as well as a discriminatory campaign against human residents of Ferryport, who are being pushed out of their homes, jobs and lives by any means possible – courtesy of the new Mayor, the Queen of Hearts.

Baba Yaga – a crazy witch who lives in a house on legs and fits every stereotype of the ugly, scary witch there ever was – makes an appearance. Puck continues to be hyper and over the top, acting like he’s seven or eight, even though his feelings for Sabrina are actually making him grow older.

The resolution to the mystery was sad in both senses of the term. It was saddening, and it was pathetically sad at the same time. After all the mystery and tension and so many plot twists and blind alleys, the final reveal is a complete letdown.

In terms of plot development for the series overall, Magic and Other Misdemeanours holds its own. In fact, the entire Sisters Grimm series just feels like an endless row of dominos falling over – one after the other, and with each precipitating the next.

Tales From the Hood is, I suppose as close to a personal favourite as this series is ever going to get from me. That’s because it has my favourite character from this book – Canis, aka The Big Bad Wolf – at the centre of the plot.

I think part of what makes Mr. Canis so interesting is that – at this point in the series – he stands out amongst the characters. It’s been six books. We (especially those of us who binge read the series) know these characters so well, that all the quirks that started out as endearing are now extremely annoying. The characters dutifully fill in their assigned roles –

Charming is all blustery and he hates them and he gets in their way a lot, but he ends up helping save the day in the end. Puck is mischievous and a trickster and very, very GROSS. He also has his moments of maturity, but not nearly enough of them. The three little pigs were too much to write, so two of them got written off the series (TV Show style), and now there’s just one Little Pig. He’s caring, has a heart of gold, yada yada yada.

The Queen of Hearts is evil. So’s Rumplestiltskin and a bunch of other people. In fact, they’re so evil, that they’re black-and-white, cardboard caricatures of what evil fairy tale villains look like.

Disney called. They want their Standardized Villain Mould (TM) back.

Canis though, is a character with layers to him. He’s on a constant anger management schedule. He spends most of his time meditating. He can turn into a rabid wolf. He has a split personality disorder, and now that he’s put on trial in Tales From the Hood, it’s up to his lawyers (the Scooby gang) to prove that Canis is innocent because it was the other personality that did it.

I like Canis, and I’m not just saying that because I might not be entirely sober right now. I’ve always been fascinated by powerful forces of nature kept under strict restraint, lest they get free and wreak havoc.

Oh, and I appreciated the re-telling of the story of Red Riding Hood. Points for ingenuity and subversion of tropes and all that. Points off for a tale within a tale that could have been a LOT less convoluted.

The Sisters Grimm occupies a little niche all by itself in the children’s fiction market, and while the first three books were passable, the next three represents the perfect transition stage from acceptable to holy-***-everything’s-going-to-hell mode.

What I’m trying to say is they’re worse than the first three, and yet nowhere as bad as the last three.

Next Review: Aftertaste by Namita Devidayal

Next in this Series: The Sisters Grimm # 7 – 9 by Michael Buckley

 

Overview: Michael Buckley and The Sisters Grimm

Series Name: The Sisters Grimm 

Book Name: The Fairy Tale Detectives

Author: Buckley, Michael

Genre: Fantasy; Fairy Tales; Middle School Level Stuff

The Universe: This series is set in present day United States of America and focuses on a small town near New York called Ferryport Landing, where the Everafters – aka all the fairy tale creatures you’ve ever known or read about – live together. A spell placed on the town mean that none of the Everafters can leave Ferryport, and the spell is tied to the presence of the human family of Grimm – the descendants of the famous brothers Grimm – in the town. The original point of the spell was to keep the existence of the Everafters a secret from humans – and to protect the humans from the magic of the Everafters. Other communities of Everafters, it turns out, also exist outside of Ferryport – such as the Faerie kingdom in New York City. The Everafters in the town coexist with humans, hiding their identities an appearances with magical disguises and liberal amounts of forgetful dust (much like the Obliviator Squad in Harry Potter).

Summary by List

Primary Organizations, Groups and Alliances:

  1. The Grimms:
    The Grimm family is bound by the magical spell, and at least one of them should always live in the town. In The Fairy Tale Detectives, the only known and active members of the family are eleven year old Sabrina Grimm, her seven year old sister Daphne, and their grandmother, Relda Grimm, who fancies herself a private eye for fairy tale mysteries. Their motley crew is rounded off by Elvis the Great Dane (best tracking dog in the world), Mr. Canis the meditating old man with multiple personality disorder (the Big Bad Wolf), and Puck, the Trickster King .
  2. The Ferryport Government:
    On their very first day in Ferryport, Relda takes the girls out to inspect a farmhouse that was stomped on by a giant – not that this was obvious to them at the outset – where they run into the Mayor of Ferryport (Prince Charming) and his loyal and long suffering lackey Seven (one of the seven dwarves). They’re also introduced to the four man strong police force (consisting of the Three Little Pigs and Ichabod Crane, who figured he’d be safer from the headless huntsman if he was a cop).
  3. The Everafters:
    The Everafters hate the Grimms (and with good reason, considering they’re locked in a tiny, non – happening town because of the very existence of the Grimms). They blend in with the rest of the populace as much as they can, taking on ordinary jobs – the trolls deliver the mail, and Snow White teaches elementary school. In keeping with the spirit of the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales, these Everafters are decidedly un-Disneyfied. The Beast doesn’t look like a handsome prince, Red Riding Hood is a homicidal maniac who ‘suffered a break from reality’, and the Queen of Hearts – well, she’s pretty much the same. For the most part, they’re an unpleasant lot, although that’s an unkind generalization, as Snow White reminds Sabrina at one point.
  4. The Scarlet Hand:
    A shadowy group of rebel Everafters who’re trying to – as far as I can tell – assassinate the Grimms so they can get the hell out of dodge.

Main Characters:

  1. Sabrina Grimm:
    Eleven and on the cusp of puberty, forced to singlehandedly protect her younger sister for almost a year, and a die hard cynic to boot – Sabrina’s life sucks. She scoffs at her grandmother’s tales (and indeed, refuses to believe that the old woman is her grandmother) until she comes face to face with a two hundred foot giant (the giants in Harry Potter were tiny in comparison). The giant promptly kidnaps Relda and Mr. Canis, leaving it to the sisters Grimm to solve the mystery of who brought the giant here, and why, and to ultimately save their grandmother.
  2. Daphne Grimm:
    Seven, gullible and naively loving to a fault, Daphne is willing to see the good in anything. Despite her age and Sabrina’s protectiveness, it’s obvious that Daphne is more than capable of taking care of herself. She exhibits maturity and wisdom well beyond her years in how well she reads people and she’s not above manipulating them into doing whatever needed to be done. To top it all off, her appetite resembles something that’s a cross between a T-Rex and a Percy Jackson satyr – she’ll eat anything, and she’ll eat all day.
  3. Relda Grimm:
    Relda exemplifies the physical stereotype of a kindly grandmother, and has the energy and enthusiasm of a Daphne Grimm. She’s pleasant and non confrontational, which makes it so much worse when she actually loses her temper. She also shows an excellent knack in handling children – particularly the volatile Sabrina – perfectly.
  4. Mr. Canis:
    The Big Bad Wolf has mended his ways – sort of, and is now the Grimms’ full time bodyguard. He’s silent and seems to always be on the edge of a foul temper, but Daphne’s hugs always manage to catch him off guard enough to make him smile briefly.
  5. Puck:
    Puck is your average, stereotypical, boisterous eleven year old boy on steroids. He’s arrogant, ego maniacal, and an irrepressible prankster. He’s convinced that he needs to safeguard his reputation as a villain, but his soft heart means he ends up helping to save the day every time.
  6. Mayor Charming:
    The arrogant and power hungry Mayor of Ferryport is a far cry from Prince Charming – who, if stories are to be believed, was the saviour of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty… and any other princesses not already spoken for by, say, a frog or a beast, no doubt.
    I mean, is charming really the most important attribute you’d look for in a prospective husband or partner? Really? It kind of goes to show that these girls aren’t meant to be thinking for themselves – they’re meant to be blinded by the riches, beauty and charm of the princes, and marry them without any further thought given to the matter. Ugh.
  7. Ernest Hamstead:
    The sheriff of Ferryport, and the first of the Three Little Pigs (the one who got huffed and puffed out of his straw house). He’s kindly and sweet, and always happy to help the Grimms, despite the fact that all the other Everafters hate them.
  8. Mirror:
    The magic mirror who safeguards a walk in closet filled with magical items, and is oddly fixated on beauty products and fitness regimes.
  9. Henry and Veronica Grimm:
    The children’s parents, who they had believed had abandoned them, but were later revealed to have been kidnapped and put in a deep magical sleep. I’m on Book # 5, and these two are still asleep.