Spelled by Betsy Schow

Spelled by Betsy Schow is a cutesy, tongue-in-cheek, twisted fairy tale loosely based on the Wizard of Oz. Seventeen year old Dorothea only wants some attention from her parents – Queen Em and King Henry – who are too busy in the day to day hassles of running their kingdom to spend time with their only child. Dot, in a selfish temper tantrum, makes a wish that the rules and her parents would just disappear so she could do as she pleases. This wish, inadvertently made upon a spell-infested star, changes the dynamics of the magical realm, placing the kingdom in ruins and making said parents (and everyone else at the Emerald Palace) disappear. All that is left is Dorothea, a dog like creature with wings, and a petulant servant girl, who together must find the magic rainbow to restore life to normal. Along the way the three run into numerous misadventures amongst friends and enemies (mostly of the “foe” sort) as Dot discovers not only herself, but the meaning of true love.

The current trend towards “fractured fairy tales” that appeals to fans of TVs “Once Upon a Time” will make this story a hit amongst middle and even high school students. It’s even clever enough to entertain adult readers who will enjoy the little hidden jokes found within the plot. Each chapter begins with an excerpt from some of the “common” self help books published in Dot’s World which those in the know will find witty – such as The Fairy Tale Survival Guide that reminds readers to pack clean undergarments along with the obligatory breadcrumbs when escaping into the wilderness or Thompson’s Tips for Ruthless Ruling which advises rulers who want to be remembered as a hero to face danger head on, but suggests that wise rulers who want to live a long life should face danger from a distance.

Teens will also relate to Dorothea’s desire to make her own decisions and not buckle in to her domineering parents’ habit of micromanaging her life. While adults might find Dot’s rebelliousness annoying, like-minded readers will cheer when the protagonist has the power to change the course of events. The hero, Kato, can’t fix things on his own, he needs the heroine to save the day (although Dorothea gratefully accepts Kato’s assistance when they both get into a jam). The side kick, Rexi, is good for a laugh with her sarcastic running commentary on the actions of all present.

My main criticism is that there are so many characters, many who pretend to be good but are evil, that the plot gets confusing at times. There is also a lot of action that needs to be clarified so the reader isn’t left scratching their head with a “huh?” feeling. The book kind of meanders towards the middle with some miscellaneous developments that perhaps could have been omitted (or saved for future novels). So, even though this is a quick read, the story line needs to be both tightened up and developed more thoroughly. A dichotomy to be sure.

As the novel doesn’t necessarily end with a “Happily Ever After”, especially since there are quite a few loose ends to be resolved, it’s to be assumed there will be a sequel. I am curious to see what Schow comes up with next to engage the reader in a fun romp through a modernized version of the land-of-make-believe. Three and a half stars.

I want to thank NetGalley and Sourcebooks for this free ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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