Loving fairy tales is not abnormal. Loads of people love fairy tales. Some people obsessively love them. Some just like them. I fall somewhere in the middle – closer to the obsession side, but not enough that I can reel off lists of obscure details. Fairy tales were a big part of my childhood. We owned the Reader’s Digest collection of traditional fairy tales – the ones where they boiled people in oil and chopped off hands and whatnot.
These were not your Disney fairytales. Dark fairy tales have always drawn me in more than the ones with happy endings. This is why The Grimm Legacy caught my attention. I love the original Grimm stories. I’ll give pretty much anything referencing their stories a fair shot. It’s led me down good and bad paths. Shulman’s novel doesn’t choose one path or the other. It just kind of hangs out at the fork and keeps you company until you decide where you want to go. It’s not bad; it’s just not fantastic.
Elizabeth is stuck in her own version of a fairy tale. Her mother is dead. Her father has remarried. Her step-mother makes her do all the chores. Her step-sisters are pretty rotten to her. Sound familiar? It’s not super original, but it’s not a big enough part of the storyline to seem overly clichéd. Through the actions of a kindly mentor, she ends up working at the New York Circulating Material Repository – a library of objects. There are rooms of wigs, kitchen utensils, clothes, but even better – there are special collections like the Grimm Collection, the Wells Bequest, the Gibson Credo, and the Lovecraft Corpus – the one that gets no attention but is the one I’m the most interested in. Even grown up me wants to work at this place. The well of available plots is deep, but the one we get to follow falls short of its potential.
Items are going missing from the repository or are losing their magic. Elizabeth and her friends of course decide that they are going to take the investigation into their own hands. Breaking new literary ground? No, but this type of story can be pretty successful. I had grand hopes, especially when Elizabeth revealed her favourite fairy tale – The Twelve Dancing Princesses. This is my favourite fairy tale! This is never anyone’s favourite. I usually receive blank stares when I mention the story. I’m going to like Elizabeth. Nope. I might have, but her character is so underdeveloped that I can’t actually form any feelings about her. The lack of character development is at the root of all the rest of the problems in the novel. We’ve got four teens, from very different backgrounds, working together at the repository.
Their diverse backgrounds could have created depth. Marc’s basketball prowess is talked about ALL the time. It doesn’t seem like Marc is ever mentioned without reminding the reader that he’s a super star basketball player. And…? It adds nothing in the story. He doesn’t use those skills at any point other than when he’s playing basketball or taking the stairs. He comes from royal roots. A royalty that is lauded by people running the repository. They quote the prophecies of his ancestors all the time. So how come the fact that Marc is part of this lineage is never explored? The only time it’s mentioned is when it becomes the reason his is the only one able to steal a certain object. And he’s an obvious thief! He’s stolen things from the repository for his own gain, but this gets brushed over in a few sentences. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if Marc’s athletic skills were a result of his constant use of the seven league boots? I don’t even know why he was a basketball star. It served no purpose.
Anjali is beautiful and all the boys want her. She’s clearly interested in Marc and oblivious of Aaron. This is a great area for fodder. Not love triangle baloney, but interesting interactions. Anjali’s apparently good at everything, except dealing with her sister. Except she gives into Jaya all the time! Later, we find out that she also descends from royalty. Again, this means nothing to the story. It’s just a footnote to explain why someone wanted to buy her.
Aaron wants to date Anjali. He starts to use Elizabeth to get closer to Anjali. He comes off as just a jerk. For no obvious reason, he’s just mean to everyone. But not mean enough to feel like a possible villain. He’s just uptight. Except for when he’s teasing Elizabeth. The scene with the invisible chair is a glimmer that there could have been some story here, but it was the only moment that stands out for me. Eventually, Aaron realizes he’s attracted to Elizabeth, but he’s so caught up in his jealousy of Marc that he can’t convey his feelings. He’s the only one that suspects Marc is up to something, but he, like everyone else, just seems to forget about it.
There’s only ever one option for the bad guy. He’s introduced as the creepy guy in the library. The next time we see him, he’s being aggressively creepy trying to steal from Elizabeth. Then next time we meet him, he tries to turn the kids into figurines. There are no red herrings. There are no other options. The bad guy literally wears a hat and beard. Everyone else is acting either under duress or in ignorance. Good guys/bad guys. No overlap. Except for Marc – and we already know that that never gets addressed. Elizabeth keeps getting up in arms when Aaron accuses her and the other two of being untrustworthy. But he’s right. He’s the only one willing to address that something might be fishy might be happening.
The most annoying part of the novel is Jaya. She’s ten years old and she steamrolls these older teens with ease. They just let her take over. Not because they think she has the best ideas, but because they don’t appear to have enough insight to tell her no. She’s the most developed character in the book. She’s the only one you really get a picture of. She’s strong willed. She’s annoying. She’s damn stubborn. She’s smart enough to use skills she’s learned to accomplish something. She inadvertently becomes the central character and steals the story. If this had been done on purpose, maybe it would have been endearing, but it didn’t feel purposeful. It felt accidental. Really, with a sentence, Jaya convinces Anjali to take her on her date with Marc? Anjali may be pretty, but she’s got zero conviction – unless she’s getting Marc’s boots back into the Grimm room.
This story should have been a girl struggling to find friendship who finally discovers a place where she can connect with others. Then, through their burgeoning friendship, they end up on an exciting adventure that leads them through a world of magical artifacts and growing up. It doesn’t have enough romance to being a coming of age love story. It doesn’t have enough mystery to be a detective novel. It doesn’t have enough development to be a character study. Maybe this is supposed to be a middle grade book, but the characters feel too old. It’s a perfectly nice, middle of the road book that is probably more enjoyable for middle schoolers than young adults. If the characters were a couple years younger, I think the book might have hit its market perfectly, but as it stands, it’s left lacking.