Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley

I was in the middle of some Serious Reading, a biography of Margaret Wise Brown, when one of my library patrons passed a book called The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives over the counter. How could I resist? Mystery, female protagonists, fantasy and fairytales. It's all my kryptonites rolled into one book. Deadly.

The sisters of the series title are Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, descendants of the Grimm brothers we all know and love (or at least, I know of them, and love the English translations of the stories they collected). After their parents disappear, they become orphans, and the book starts as they are off to live with the grandmother they thought was dead, Relda Grimm. And one of my favourite fiction themes is central to this book: fairy-tales aren't just stories made up to scare kids into piety and obedience -- they are real. The characters are real and the stories really happened, and the Grimm sisters find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving a marauding giant, a magic mirror, vicious pixies, and a Prince Charming who may or may not be charming at all.

As the first of a series, I did get the impression that some of the characters need a little developing. Charming, for example, seems wildly uneven throughout the book. Mr. Canis, too, is a little thin at first (sorry to those of you who have read these books -- the pun was irresistible) although he is supposed to be a mysterious figure; I believe the fifth book in the series is all about him. I think I understand the reasoning behind the fluctuations in character in both cases, but particularly Charming strikes me as more deeply inconsistent than necessary.

Each of the three Grimms is quite well-realized from the start. I adore Daphne. Sabrina is difficult, and difficult to like at first, which makes reading a bit of a challenge because she is main character and our third-person narrator. But one also has a lot of sympathy for her, and understands that she's been through an incredible ordeal over the year and a half before the book begins (which, thankfully, Buckley never belabours). I kept reading partially in hopes that she would come around, and she does, although not until too late. "Until too late" is a theme for Sabrina, actually. I suspect my main nitpick -- that the foreshadowing is often more like a forebludgeoning -- is made a little more annoying based on the fact that Sabrina seems to make obviously bad decisions. I understand that this is a writing device, but I still found it a bit tiresome. The right decisions are obvious to the reader because the clues are there quite plainly for us to see, and we wonder what the hell Sabrina is thinking when she makes bad decisions. It doesn't make her likeable, it makes her frustrating. I can, however, see that some people (especially children?) may appreciate the appeal of covering their eyes and going "Oh noes! What happens next?!" Or perhaps as an adult, I don't realize that the clues are not as obvious as they seem to me? Most kids I know are at least as fast on the uptake as I am, though.

Despite the forebludgeoning, there's a bit of a twist partway through that works very well. I'm not sure how much to say about this -- I don't want to give anything away. A discerning reader will, of course, understand that things are never as simple as they seem. The last third of the book was a very fast read for me, as I did want to know what happened (I was pretty sure that no one got squashed by a giant, but you never do know). And then there's the overarching mystery still to be solved: Who kidnapped Henry and Victoria Grimm? Where are they? And who, or what, is the Scarlet Hand?

I quite enjoyed this story for a quick romp into the fantastic, and I'll definitely be picking up the next in the series, The Unusual Suspects. Puck, the obvious foil for Sabrina, is almost certain to take a larger role in the next book (actually, I'm hoping we'll see quite a bit more of him, because along with Daphne, I liked him best). I suspect this particular series would be a great recommendation to those who are suffering from Life After Potter.


Jill (Lady Lazarus) said...

Ooooh, that so totally sounds like my kind of book and I'm definitely adding it to my to-read list.

Unknown said...

It is pretty awesome. I tried to find The Unusual Suspects today, but it appears to be out.

Interestingly I have received a comment to this blog that I was uncertain about publishing, and I rejected it. I am not sure whether that was a good idea or not. I have had it up to my ears with blog spammers, but I couldn't tell whether this comment qualified -- and if it didn't, I offer a sincere apology to DW Golden. My trigger finger might have been a bit quick.

To answer your comment, though: I have no idea whether or not this is Mr. Buckley's first book, but as it is the first in the series, I certainly do give him some leeway to develop characters. Though I highly doubt that Mr. Buckley reads this blog (I would be very much tickled if he did) I would hope that his skin is thick enough to deal with a few minor quibbles from a random internet blogger who definitely enjoyed the book!