Review: An Unnatural Beanstalk

I finally finished reading the rest of the Entwined Tales series, starting with An Unnatural Beanstalk by Brittany Fichter in anticipation of the sequel to her Autumn Fairy book, The Autumn Fairy of Ages, coming out on Tuesday. I hope to have the rest of my reviews for Entwined Tales up by the end of next week. An Unnatural Beanstalk didn't have the same light-hearted comedic tone as the others in the series, but that wasn't too surprising considering that both of the other books I read by Brittany were pretty dark. It followed the same structure about one of the woodcutter's daughters receiving an unwanted magical gift from her fairy godfather Mortimer and turning her entire life upside-down as a result.

An Unnatural Beanstalk is an adaptation of "Jack and the Beanstalk," but without the fantastical elements from the fairy tale. There are no man-eating giants, no golden eggs, and no beanstalks that tower into the sky. It's quite a shame because those are the elements that made the fairy tale really stand out, and it would have been a lot of fun to read about them from a fresh perspective, especially after the cancellation of Disney's Gigantic. Instead, the book was a pretty generic princess story about an insecure young woman named Eva getting captured by a duke while quietly plotting to unravel his plans to take over the kingdom. Even though the original fairy tale had no romance in it, Jack got demoted to the role of the protagonist's love interest in this version. Though he attempts to come to Eva's rescue upon learning that she was kidnapped, it proves to be far more difficult than he expected.

Eva's unwanted gift from Mortimer to grow or destroy crops when she plays the harp becomes a crucial factor in the duke's plan. He forces her to play his harp every morning and night to ensure that his land would be fruitful while simultaneously killing the crops for the rest of the kingdom. The concept of a peasant girl being forced to do something magical by a powerful man hearkens to the story of "Rumpelstiltskin." In fact, the fairy tale about an unwanted magical gift to spin straw into gold creating misfortune for the main character would have fit a lot better with the overarching theme of the Entwined Tales series than "Jack and the Beanstalk," so I'm a little surprised that nobody used it. Though Eva's story is rather generic as far as fairy tales go, she did have a few traits that made her unique. She was uncommonly tall for a girl, which made it difficult for her to find a suitor, and her insecurities made it hard for her to stand up for herself. Because of her uncommon humility, she never summoned her irritable fairy godfather Mortimer to request his faulty magic, making her his "favorite" of the woodcutter's children.

The book seemed to be a thinly veiled cautionary tale about bad parenting. Both of the main characters' problems were caused by poor parenting decisions. Eva was sent away to live with her nefarious cousin, Tamra, as her parents' way of "protecting" her from people who might take advantage of her supernatural abilities. It was later revealed that the duke who kidnapped Eva was raised by the type of parents who believed in participation trophies and constant praise, making him oblivious to the negative consequences of his actions. The duke was the closest attempt that the book made at humor with his awful poetry and his complete lack of awareness that Eva did not return his affections, but her situation was so grim that the tone never felt as light as the rest of the Entwined Tales series. If anything, his black humor was comparable to Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events. Jack's mother was also every bit as cold and demanding as she was in the original fairy tale, which is why he was the first person to notice Eva's humility and kindness and quickly grew to love her. Brittany Fichter even included a bonus chapter for subscribers to her newsletter about how much of an unwanted ruckus Jack's mother caused after he and Eva were trying to enjoy their happy ending. Though the bonus chapter had a lot of typographical errors, it was funnier than the actual book in many ways because it satirized overbearing mothers.

An Unnatural Beanstalk created a lot of untapped potential by excluding the giants and the magical kingdom in the sky from the story it was based on. Thanks to the lack of whimsy, I found it less creative than the other books in the series and by far the darkest. The plot was very similar to every other princess book I've read. That said, Jack and Eva were likable enough as characters, and the romance between them was endearing. I saw many parallels to Brittany's other novel, The Autumn Fairy, but I liked that book a lot more thanks to its fantasy and originality. The message about bad parenting was enforced a little too much. It seemed as if all of the characters' problems could have been solved with better parents whether Mortimer's magic had been part of the story or not. It was an enjoyable enough book, but not the best in the series.


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