Fairytales of New York – ‘The Grimm Legacy’ by Polly Shulman

grimmThe Grimm Legacy is a light younger-teen book, based on a simple but extremely pleasing premise. Objects from fairy tales exist. Not only do they exist, they are stored in a beautiful building in New York, where a library like system allows them to be borrowed. The idea is so elegant, it’s one of those you wished you’d thought of first, and so simple, you’re not quite sure why you didn’t. What follows is a a very pleasing story of magic and fairy dust.

The story is, in itself, slight. Somebody is stealing the items, and it is up to newly recruited Elizabeth to find out who. Together with some close friends she has to… Ok, you know what they have to do. What sets the novel apart from the field is the delightfully named New York Circulating Material Repository; an assortment of all things weird, wonderful and in the Grimm Collection, magical.

As in many fairy tales, the magic comes at a price. For a start, in order to borrow something you have to leave a deposit. This is not simple cash, but something far less tangible. Sense of humour, ear for music or childhood memories are all things that could be left for the duration of the loan. Shulman has great fun with the things her characters do give up, as well as examining the consequences of doing so.

Similarly, there is a wealth of source material to work with. When combined with the repository’s other fictional collections, the Wells Bequest (science fictional items) and the (brilliantly titled) Gibson Chrestomathy (computing) Shulman has given herself licence to plunder the most interesting artefacts from centuries of storytelling and use them to create fantastic new tales. This is particularly effective for the fairy tale elements; their gifts are often double edged and when utilised in 21st century Manhattan, can have some unexpected consequences.

You do have to be able to suspend your belief for the novel to work. The idea that real-life magic artefacts gave rise to the Grimm’s fairy stories isn’t too much of a stretch, but asking readers believe that Well’s Time Machine or shrink rays really exist pushes things a bit too far. Similarly, the idea that a lending library of incredibly powerful artefacts is safe in downtown Manhattan, could, for some, be hard to swallow. Shulman makes some effort to explain how they got there and why most of the collection’s guardians are children, but these explanations wouldn’t withstand serious probing.

But what sort of killjoy would want to do that? The Grimm Legacy is an imaginative reworking, and great fun to read. It’s well-written, with strong characters and snappy dialogue. The novel fizzes with the same storytelling energy as the original works from which it takes its inspiration. If you are looking for something a little different to read, you could do a lot worse than The

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