The Inside Story, Michael Buckley

The Inside Story, Michael BuckleyThe Inside Story by Michael Buckley
Illustrated by  Peter Ferguson

First Published: 2010
Pages: 266 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: The Sisters Grimm #8

Rating: 3/53/53/53/53/5

 

Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have studied hundreds of fairy tales as part of the family business, but they never thought they’d actually be in one. And yet that’s exactly what happens when they follow the diabolical Master into the Book of Everafter, a mysterious tome in which copies of the world’s fairy tales live out their stories over and over again. The Grimm’s must track down the Master while avoiding the book’s tyrannical Editor, who is devoted to keeping the stories on track. In the Book of Everafter, stories can be rewritten, which is why Sabrina and Daphne must find the Master before he can alter his fate – and the fate of the world.

The penultimate book in the series, The Inside Story, is a massive departure from the previous instalments. The now-formulaic ‘Fairy Tale Detective’ plot-line that’s been gradually phased out in the last two books is now put completely aside in favour of pure action-adventure. But also put aside is the ‘fairy tale characters living in the modern world’ concept, which is probably the bit I enjoy most about this series. The Inside Story sees Daphne and Sabrina leaving Ferryport Landing and jumping into the master-book of fairytales where they have to race through each story, in pursuit of the villainous ‘Master’, before he changes his own story forever and gives himself ultimate powers. Meanwhile ‘the Editor’ is pursuing them all for interfering with his stories and insisting they put things back the way they were. It’s all very meta and it does sound like a fun concept. But the execution left me feeling kind of flat.

The whole book is basically a ‘whacky’ extended chase scene, and while Daphne and Puck seem to have quietly developed over the series, our main character Sabrina, who gets taught a ‘life lesson’ at least once per book is still squawking and sulking her way through developments in exactly the same manner she was in book one. It’s frustrating. There are many things frustrating with this series, but Sabrina’s character development is definitely the worst. Every book there’s a subplot of her realising her character flaws and prejudices and learning to address them, yet every book she starts off again as a moody brat. And no amount of third person narration can convince me how great she is. For the first few books this was a  annoying, but forgivable. In book eight it’s really beyond that point, there’s only one book left in the series and the main character is still almost completely unsympathetic. Add to that she’s not as clever as the narration so desperately wants me to believe, and that she seemingly hasn’t bothered to do any research into fairy tales so keeps having to ask other characters what happened in Little Red Riding Hood or who such-and-such-a-character is. Again, this is book eight. You can only get away with the ‘my dad banned fairytales’ excuse for so long.

Aside from that character issue, though, I wasn’t too enamoured with the plot of this book either. there’s not so much a plot as a series of things that just sort of happen to and around the characters. Much is made by ‘the Editor’ that changing the story in the book will have repercussions in the real world, but it kind of rings hollow to me. Sabrina and Daphne certainly don’t seem to care for most of the book, totally screwing up the Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Books, Jack and the Beanstalk etc. without any real fallout beyond the editor grumbling that he’ll have to send in his revisers to rewrite. Maybe I’m wrong and the final book will show all sorts of fall out from Sabrina and Daphne’s adventures, but I strongly suspect that only the baddy’s meddling with the very final story they stepped into will have any lasting effect in the ‘real world’ of Ferryport Landing.

It’s a shame because the idea isn’t bad. The idea of travelling through books and repairing plot damage is actually one I like. Jasper Fforde does this stuff brilliantly for adult literature. But here absolutely nothing interesting seems to have been done with the idea and, to be honest, I  think Buckley just isn’t a good enough writer to exploit the concept properly or write it well. Nothing very interesting is really done in any of the books and stories that the sisters visit, they are seemingly just there to provide whacky backdrop and odd adventures until they finally reach the real plot and the actual big bad. And I can’t say I think much of the choices of stories to visit either. Starting in Oz is always going to draw a yawn from me – not just because I find the Oz series boring and stupid but because they are too associated with an original author for me to view them in the same way as I do fairytales and folklore. It feels less like having fun playing with stories and archetypes and more like fan fiction, same with Wonderland, and The Jungle Book just felt out of place. I guess actual fairytales have so many versions already that the idea of there being a single definitive version doesn’t work, but I would have been more interested in seeing that than watching Sabrina and Daphne stumble through Wonderland.

I still liked the book, it had its moments and (as always) it promises interesting reveals in the next book – which since the next book is the last I guess it  will have to deliver on. But I think it’s one of, if not, the weakest in the series. The events feel stretched out, not really warranting a whole book on their own and  the lack of most of the supporting cast (no Uncle Jake!) makes Sabrina’s annoyances stand out even more. Do hope the last book is better.

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