An Author's Odyssey: The Land of Stories, Book 5
By Mary Eisenhart,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Pirates, space aliens, mummies add to mishmash mayhem.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
As part of the loony hodgepodge of historical references (for example, the Rat Pack of Vegas fame) and plot elements, many books are mentioned, from classic fairy tales to Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Amid the bits of trivia, geography, and so on is the occasional bit of actual disinformation, as when Alex (who's pretty much right about everything) asserts that the prefix "poly," which means "many," means "seven."
Many heartfelt, sometimes preachy, messages about the importance and proper roles of teachers and storytellers, reflecting Colfer's frequent statements about how those forces saved him during a troubled childhood. For example: "As teachers, we must not guide our students to become the people we wish them to be, but elevate them to become the people they were meant to be. Remember, the encouragement we give our students may be the only encouragement they ever receive, so don't use it sparingly." As in the previous series installments, family, friendship, courage, and creative thinking are core values. So are teamwork and an appreciation for unique talents.
Here as elsewhere, Colfer, who advocates for storytelling's quasi-religious role of giving people something (however ultimately ridiculous) to believe in, serves up a lot of religion-mocking humor, such as a pirate ship called Dolly Llama and an animal sidekick called the Rosary Chicken.
Positive Role Models
Conner and Alex are loving siblings -- and several plot developments here have them recognizing places where they might have fallen short in the past and owning up to it. Their newly discovered German cousin from A Grimm Warning shows much bravery and kindness in scary circumstances. Their mom ("Nurse Charlotte") and stepdad ("Doctor Bob") are quite often bewildered by all the magical goings-on caused by kids with roots in the fairy tale world -- especially when a pirate ship suddenly appears in their swimming pool -- but rise to the occasion beautifully, whether it calls for fooling hospital administrators or saving a kid from his would-be murderer.
Violence & Scariness
"Off with their heads!" is a recurring theme. As the story begins, a villain is about to execute all the royal families of the fairy tale world, including the babies. Later, the main villain plans to kill his own son and drain his blood to gain magical power. An evil character has murdered his daughter for doing a kind deed. Battles with assorted adversaries -- pirates, monsters, and the like -- involve both weapons and magic; villainous characters attack one another with murderous intent, and many appear to meet a violent death at the hands of other characters, although several of them revive. A scene features long-dead women (including once-beheaded Anne Boleyn and Marie Antoinette, with their heads stitched back on) who emerge from their graves every night to chat. A monster turns living beings to stone -- including many friends of beloved characters. Pirates have assorted missing limbs, which is treated as comical.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
There are many couples among the adult characters; the woman in one is very pregnant for most of the story but manages to have adventures anyway. There's a brief, cartoonish childbirth scene. Some kissing and romantic tension, but pretty innocent. One comic character has been romantically obsessed with Conner -- who doesn't share her feelings -- from early in the series, and briefly transfers her interest to Peter Pan, who's not interested. Alex and young King Arthur, in different worlds, pine for each other.
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Occasional "damn!" and brief references to buttocks and pee, toilet humor, and a scene where pirates are warded off by a flock of pooping birds; a bit of innuendo around "stones," and this from a character to Captain Hook: "From the way you obsessively talk about him, I'd say he's taken much more from you than just your hand!"
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Products & Purchases
Many references to events and characters in previous volumes, usually for context. There's also a sample chapter of A Treasury of Classic Fairy Tales, the latest in a series of spin-offs from Colfer's lucrative fairy tale franchise.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Drunken Mother Goose returns, along with other hard-drinking characters new and old; some of the pirates run amok making and consuming strawberry daiquiris. A character injects a villain with a sedative. Another poisons a rival with magic, personality changing dust.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that An Author's Odyssey, Chris Colfer's fifth installment in the best-selling and planned nine-volume Land of Stories series, offers more of what we've come to expect from previous books: a crazy mix of high adventure, gory violence, self-doubt, moral crisis, family drama, and a lot of wacky humor in questionable taste -- with, in this case, pirates (often gross in appearance), mummies (ditto), monstrous insects, and space aliens. There's some romantic tension between two adult characters, but it doesn't get beyond a brief mention of a "passionate kiss" before the narrator's moved on to something else. Several characters are married, and one of them gives birth in a played-for-laughs scene. Through it all, now 15-year-old protagonists Conner and Alex, torn between (at least) two worlds, struggle to do the right thing and help their loved ones as their quest takes them to a colossal cliffhanger ending. As in previous books, Colfer is somewhat mocking of religion while elevating storytelling in general and fairy tales in particular to quasi-religious status in giving people something to believe in; this may spark some discussion.
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What's the Story?
AN AUTHOR'S ODYSSEY finds twins Conner and Alex Bailey turning 15, although it's no time for celebration. Their friends in the fairy tale world are imprisoned and about to be killed by an army of villains conjured from storybooks in Book 4. But Conner has a plan: Come to the rescue with an army of his own, made up of the characters in the stories he wrote in elementary school. Soon he and Alex are visiting the worlds Conner created, recruiting pirates, space aliens, mummies, and superheroes to the cause while dodging murderous villains and colossal insects.
Is It Any Good?
Chris Colfer fans will be right at home in this frenetic mishmash of (apparently) whatever pops into the author's head next, but he may be piling it on a bit too much this time around. The author's "odyssey" into the grade school fiction of Colfer's alter ego, Conner, offers danger, laughs, and character insights -- along with a whole lot of inside-baseball philosophizing about the life of a writer: how you may write a story but it takes on its own life; how the way you're feeling a particular day influences what you write, with fateful consequences; and so on.
Most familiar series characters appear only briefly in The Author's Odyssey, while mummies, pirates, superheroes, and space aliens join the party in droves. It's a lot to keep track of, what with Colfer's barrage-of-random-bits narrative style, leading to a cliffhanger ending that leaves the door open for many, many future installments.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about An Author's Odyssey and how it fits into the Land of Stories series. Do you like the direction the story's taken, or would you have taken a different approach to the problems Book 4 left behind?
In Chris Colfer's books, you get barrages of tender moments, slapstick humor, sibling squabbles, and plentiful gore, often on the same page. Do you like this approach to storytelling? Does it work well for some kinds of stories and not others?
Do reinvented fairy tales make you go back and reread the originals? Do you see different things in them now?
- Author: Chris Colfer
- Illustrator: Brandon Dorman
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Fairy Tales, Friendship
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: July 12, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 464
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
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