I really, really wanted to love The Secret History of Tom Trueheart by Ian Beck. But I didn’t. My feelings were much more mixed.
I really do love the premise. Tom has six older brothers named Jack, who all go on adventures in the Land of Stories. How fun is that? First, the idea that you can walk through a gate and enter a magical land where fairy tales happen to you, and that there’s a family where they have this tradition of going off on adventures…love it! And I love the idea of gently poking fun at the way fairy tale heroes (non-princes, at least) are always named Jack.
Tom is the youngest (making him the seventh son–very fairy tale proper, that) and the smallest, and he’s convinced that he’s the least brave. He’s the only one who hasn’t gone off on adventures, but when all his older brothers mysteriously disappear, then it’s up to him to find out what happened. I’m not going to try to claim that that’s terribly original, but it’s from the children’s section, and I like stories about characters who don’t think they’re brave and have to find qualities in themselves they didn’t know they had in order to save the day.
So far we’re doing great. But. (And you knew this was coming.) But…we have to read what happened to go wrong with each Jack. And we have to read what happens when Tom ultimately helps them. Don’t forget, the Jacks are in the Land of Story to embark on fairy tales. So what this ultimately turns into is a lot of retelling of fairy tales.
We get the first half early on in the story: Jack gets halfway into Sleeping Beauty’s castle (or whatever) and gets into some kind of trouble. The book goes on, Tom has his adventure, we come back later, and Tom helps Jack rescue the princess. (Sorry if that was a spoiler, but I doubt it surprised anyone). The trouble is, nothing all that original happens to the fairy tale itself. Tom is thrown into it, but it’s not really that different.
Tom’s story is original, when we’re following him, but when we’ve also got six Jacks to get through, I felt like I spent way too much of the book just reading stories I already knew. This might have been better with about half as many Jacks, and only half as many fairy tales.
That points directly to my other problem: while I love that idea of six characters named Jack, they do run together. Beck tried to distinguish them, by giving them all a nickname like Jacques or Jackson or Jake, but I was still getting them mixed up. I’m not very good with character names though, so that might just be me.
Like I said, I have mixed feelings on this book. I love the premise. However, I’d only recommend reading it if you’re also in the mood to reread the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault, because that’s more or less what you end up doing, in between Tom’s adventure.
I recently found out there are two sequels, and since the premise is so good, I just might investigate them.
Author’s site: http://tomtrueheart.com/