DEAD UPON A TIME Lacks Literary Life at Crucial Moments

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Dead Upon a Time Elizabeth Paulson Scholastic

When Kate Hood is beset by a pack of wolves while taking a weekly load of groceries to her Nan's isolated house in the woods, it's just the beginning of a very creepy adventure. Narrowly escaping the creatures, she finds Nan's house empty, save for four tapestries of exquisite craftsmanship but showing surreal tortures: a girl in chains, holding a comb, her hair shaved; a boy and girl, huddled in a cell, sweating from surrounding heat; a young maiden huddled on the floor to avoid being pricked by walls lined with needles; and a quickly scrawled message: It should have been you!

Receiving no help from the townspeople who have shunned her all her life, Kate turns to the woods in search of one who may be able to help her find her Nan: Jack Haricot, also shunned and turned away by his village after his greed brought the wrath of a giant upon the town. Despite having successfully having hidden from everyone, she manages to find him within a few hours and pleads her case, thus taking the first step toward completely failing the Bechdel test throughout the rest of the story.

The quest isn't quite as simple as it begins. Shortly thereafter, Jack and Kate are captured by King Wilhelm's men, so that the King can task these two with finding his daughter, Ella, who has also gone missing. And as Kate inspects the castle grounds to get a feel for Ella, she finds yet another tapestry.

Through each harrowing encounter, Kate is constantly embarrassed about how Jack might take the things she says, because she's nursing a crush on this roguish boy throughout. Even when it turns out that Kate can do certain things he cannot, this still seems to be Jack's adventure told through Kate's point of view.

Ultimately, when the object of the quest is obtained, the villain of the piece is encountered, subdued and defeated within a matter of paragraphs. This was a lot of set-up for a rather quick and disappointing payoff.

For the majority of the book, the plot and pacing are intriguing -- even compelling in many places. But things aren't followed up, and plot threads are introduced and then left to dangle unresolved. I felt as though the author had set up an elaborate array of dominos, and then knocked them all over with the design only three-quarters completed. Another hundred pages added to this 200 page novella, and a bit more spine in Kate, would have gone a long way toward redeeming Elizabeth Paulson's DEAD UPON A TIME. There's more than a germ of a good idea here, it just doesn't get cultivated enough.

3.0 / 5.0