Jack the Giant Killer, by Charles de Lint

I cannot remember the last time a fairy tale retelling left me feeling so indifferent. Honestly, if not for this blog, I would have quitted this book halfway through. Of course, it cannot be easy to make a compelling retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk, because of its rinse-and-repeat storyline of climbing a tall green plant and stealing from an angry giant, but I know it’s possible for someone to do better than this.

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Rather than giving a summary, I’ll just jump right into the review, because the less time I have to spend with it, the better. Besides, the plot is such a clichéd hero’s journey I think I’d be wasting my time rattling it off. The point is that Jacky Rowan, the Jack of this story, is tasked with rescuing the daughter of some fairy king, and in order to do so, she must find this Horn thingy, while also fighting a few giants and bogans and things… It tries so hard to be a grand, epic adventure, but a big chunk of this problem lies with how Jacky reacts to—and eventually plays a very, very small part in—this adventure.

As far as fairy tale heroines go, Jacky is as plain and bland as you can get, and I don’t just mean in an attempt to offset the pastel magical-ness of the faerie world she encounters. I mean, she is BORING. Her only characteristic is that she is restless in her oh-so ordinary life, and she hardly ever featured in her own story. Halfway through the book, Jacky is incapacitated until her best friend, Kate, and whatever magic friends she picks up on the way have to bust her out. In fact, Kate, the sidekick, figures better as a heroine than Jacky.

What’s most baffling about Jacky is how quickly she buys into the adventure. She never gives a justifiable reason for becoming the savior of Faerie, and, come to think of it, neither do the people who pull her into the mess. Jacky comes into her role by putting on a magical hob cap that incidentally allows her to see into Faerie, so I guess they just pluck her up for that arbitrary reason. So, if Jacky doesn’t really care about this adventure except as a way of having a little bit of fun, then why should we care about the outcome of her high-stakes mission?

Also, not five pages into her adventure, Jacky talks about the people who gave her this mission as if they were dear friends. Like, sweetie, you literally just met these people and you know nothing of whether you can even trust them. I understand wanting to establish tight bonds between traveling companions on a dangerous mission, but my God, this one came much too early.

It was also really, really hard to care about this clichéd adventure of saving a magical land because the characters stick together for arbitrary reasons as well. They fall into the trap of only joining the heroine because they owe her their lives or something like that. And after a while, they all just blend together, with similar missions and personalities. Not only that, but the book even tries to sneak a last-minute romance between Jacky and one of her companions, whose name I can’t remember, despite what little, LITTLE time they spent together.

Like, HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO CARE WHEN YOU TWO HAVE SHARED, LIKE, TWO PAGES TOGETHER, AND YOU HAVEN’T HAD A PROPER HEART-TO-HEART, AND YOU AREN’T EVEN THAT INTERESTING PEOPLE—?

Not to mention when the bogans come into the picture. Oh boy. I can’t describe these magic creatures (because I just didn’t care enough to remember them), but literally, the only thing I remember is how many freaking times they used the phrase “hot damn.” It seemed as though every single sentence was either preceded by or followed by the phrase—to the point that I wanted to shout at them to JUST SHUT THE FREAK UP! For fantastical creatures to use such a dated phrase just didn’t mesh at all for me—it downright annoyed me!

Okay, now that I’ve let off some steam about my slight rage toward what this book expects me to feel, I will say this. Kate, for better or worse, is the best character of the bunch. She is kind, snarky, brave, and can throw shade at the fairies so much better than Jacky. Plus, she has a funny little VW car named Judith that accidentally gets wrecked during a chase. Here’s the kicker, though: I felt more for Kate and her beloved old car, which only has five pages in all, than any other character relationship. Whether or not Kate’s Judith would be fixed was of greater interest to me than whether the damsel would be saved and Jacky would get what she wanted.

Honestly, this book is harmless, but still, something about its relentless playing by the fantasy numbers just got me so angry. It didn’t quite leave as aghast with disbelief as Halo, but the fact that I cared so little about nearly everything in this book is not an advantage. Well, except for the two-hundred-page length—the short length is a blessing.

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