With no dearth of novels that fracture and mingle fairy tales, waste no time on this sequel and its lazy metaphysics.
Jack, of the beanstalk family, and Phillip, a prince, come from inside fairy tales; May, of unclear heritage, comes from the modern real world. They have many adventures. As they get into and out of scrapes, some magic startles them while some inexplicably doesn’t. Rather than portraying the magic with consistency or structure, the text indolently justifies itself: “[m]agic [is] strange.” Any detail can be just “[p]art o’ the magic”: When ocean replaces forest, the “because” is “Because why not.” Riley strives for twists and intrigue, but so many things appear “out of nowhere” that surprise becomes tedium. He simply hasn’t the knack yet of creating a plot in which characters are consistently confused but readers aren’t. There’s some cool stuff: Peter Pan is also Pan the satyr, and Jack’s sardonic narration is often funny. But words like “immediately” and “quickly” can’t force excitement, nor can offered-and-retracted inescapable peril (“nothing could possibly stop the sword as it flew straight and true right at Phillips' back— / Until an urgent, vibrant musical note sounded from behind”). The retrograde sexism of May’s fussy, sharp-tongued, victim role chafes.
Go for Lyn Gardner’s Into the Woods, (2007) Emily Rodda’s Key to Rondo (2008) and Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark & Grimm (2010) instead. (Fantasy. 8-11)