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A Tale of Magic

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
A Tale of Magic Book Poster Image
Imaginative, lively tale launches Land of Stories prequels.

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Kids say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Colfer packs his text with vocabulary-enhancing words, like "interaction," "temperament," "rhetorical," "consequences," "euphoria," "catastrophizing." "Fascinator," a type of hat, gets a lot of play.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of diversity, inclusion, respect for one another's particular talents, teamwork, kindness, and loyalty. Also, eye-rollingly broad-brushed bashing of everything Colfer likes to sneer at, like religion and gender stereotypes, from the snarky protagonist and the snarkier narrator. For example, "'Magic is an insult to God and nature, and a danger to morality as we know it,' King Warworth of the West remarked. Luckily for him, the statement distracted his people from rumors about the eight illegitimate children he had fathered with eight different mistresses."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Definitely behind the door when humility was passed out, Brystal rarely considers the possibility that she might be wrong about something, foreshadowing her adult self -- smart, courageous, determined, kind-hearted, and never reluctant to give "uplifting,"  bossy speeches to everyone from small children and friends to kings and witches. Her teen pals, who will also appear in The Land of Stories in later life, are believably flawed and vulnerable (one mentions having gambling debts, and another's magic powers have killed people by accident) but also bound by strong loyalty and each getting a chance to shine.  On occasion, the teen characters do something they know is wrong -- like when they break into their revered teacher's office, snoop through all her stuff, and guzzle her (non-alcoholic) drink stash -- with no consequences whatever. Adult characters, even well-meaning ones, are conflicted and compromised by a lot of closed minds and bad choices but sometimes offer support and wisdom.


Violence is pretty much everywhere, whether in mortal combat between magical beings or a human society that uses the death penalty with gusto against anyone it finds threatening, and frequently imprisons and enslaves others. Characters are captured and threatened with death. A spell to bring a murdered man back to life goes badly awry. A kid whose magical powers have gone out of control and caused massive destruction tries to commit suicide. One incident involves a vivid description of a family instantly frozen to death in mid-dinner. One character bursts into flame a lot. A character is scarred from what she describes as a past attempt to burn her at the stake. One scene has a woman feeding live chickens to a Venus flytrap.


Brief reference to a king's "eight illegitimate children he had fathered with eight different mistresses." In the past, the forbidden love between a knight and a witch has fateful, often deadly consequences that influence plot developments. The teens (four girls and a boy) dive into bed together because of a scary storm, but there's nothing sexual.


 A character says, "I'm a friggin' fairy!" Characters exclaim, "Oh, thank God!" Occasional mild bathroom humor. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The teens drug one of their caretakers so they can go off on an urgent adventure.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Tale of Magic is the first book in a series by Chris Colfer, illustrated by Brandon Dorman, that serves as a prequel/origin story to their blockbuster Land of Stories series. More reliant on good storytelling and plot coherence, and shorter on the wisecracks and slapstick than the earlier stories, the tale retains lots of classic Colfer touches: He satirically skewers hypocrisy, politics, religion, gender stereotypes, and more, while frequently bursting into cheerleader-like inspirational speeches. It's a compelling, fast-moving tale with well developed characters, many of them "fairies," magical beings fleeing oppression and murder, often at the hands of their own families. There's a lot of violence, magical and otherwise, including a vivid description of a family instantly frozen to death in mid-dinner, and a kid whose magical powers have gone out of control and caused massive destruction tries to commit suicide. One character bursts into flame a lot. Amid the mayhem, there are strong messages of kindness, teamwork, inclusion, and being the best you can be.

User Reviews

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Kid, 12 years old October 17, 2019

A Must Read

If you've read the land of stories series, then this is a MUST! The descriptive details makes this book an absolute PAGE TURNER! Read this if you like long... Continue reading

What's the story?

A TALE OF MAGIC finds 14-year-old Brystal Evergreen chafing at the limitations of her country's culture, which forbids girls to read and anyone to practice magic. Aided by her kind brother, Brystal's been sneaking books for some time before her secret compulsion leads her to volunteer as a maid at the library, while not being exactly truthful with her parents about what she's doing. Before long, she discovers a secret room full of banned books ("History and Other Lies," "The War on Women," "Losing Faith in Faith," and more) and soon devours them all. Of course, it doesn't take long till she's caught. Will she be sentenced to death like so many before her, or is this just the beginning of her adventures?

Is it any good?

Chris Colfer's in fine form in this lively origin story about characters who, later in life, play significant roles in The Land of Stories series. Especially 14-year-old Brystal Evergreen, whose determination, brains, and kind heart pit her against prejudice, ignorance, and cruelty. The fast-moving tale is more tightly written and less slapstick-silly than the original series. Both Colfer and his audience have matured a bit since the first series launched in 2012. A Tale of Magic's characters are complex, relatable, and often deal with their own tragedies as they face many perils in trying to make the world safe for people like them.  Punctuating it all, encouraging pep talks like this from Brystal:

"We're all just a couple of mistakes away from becoming the people we despise. So don't think worse of yourself, let this change how you think of yourself. Start valuing who you are, more than what you are. Prove you're better than most people by showing more acceptance and empathy. And fuel your pride with what you earn and create, instead of what you're born with."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how A Tale of Magic fits in with The Land of Stories? Do you think reading about the characters as they appear here gives you a better understanding of their older selves in the original series? Or, if you haven't read the original books yet, does this make you want to read more?

  • As you look around your own community and school, do you see rules and customs that make no sense to you? Do you just live with them, or try to change them?

  • Have you ever figured you were the only person who thought a certain way about something, and then you met someone who felt the same? Did anything change in your life because of it?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love fantasy and friendship

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