Sunday, April 3, 2022

Book Review: Once Upon Another Time by James Riley (Once Upon Another Time #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun story and characters
Cons: All cons sent to another review
The Bottom Line:
Fairytales twisted
Plenty of action and fun
Ready for the next

A Second Magical Remix of Fairytales

I first found James Riley when he published his original trilogy of books, the Half Upon a Time series.  While I’ve enjoyed his other series, that first series has always been my favorite.  So, I was thrilled when I found out he was going to revisit that universe with a new trilogy.  As soon as I got my hands on Once Upon Another Time (thanks to an early pre-order shipment), I sat down to read it.

This book introduces us to Lena.  At five and a half feet, she’s short for a twelve-year-old – a twelve-year-old giant, that is.  However, at twelve, she is finally old enough to attend her first Ritual of the Spark ceremony.  Her parents aren’t thrilled with her going (in fact, they try to keep her at home as long as they can), but Lena is determined.  However, things go wrong at the ceremony, and she finds herself running down to visit her human friends in the Cursed City.

Meanwhile, Jin is a twelve-year-old genie, which means there are major limits to his power since he is still considered a genie in training.  His current master is the Golden King, who rules with fear.  The King’s current desire is to eliminate the Last Knight, the head of the rebels against the Golden King.  So, Jin sets out to find him…in the Cursed City.

Naturally, Lena and Jin’s paths will cross at some point, but I will leave it for you to find out when, and what exactly happens after it does.  The story is told from both of their third person points of view in alternating chapters, so we are fully invested with both of them before they even meet.

While this is a sequel series, there are only some references to events and characters from the previous series.  Honestly, since it’s been twelve years since the first in that series came out, I don’t remember many of the details myself.  So far, that hasn’t been important, but it looks like that will be changing as the series goes along.  If you’d like to read that other series first, I definitely recommend it.  I wish I felt I had the time for a reread myself.

Anyway, back to this book.

While Lena and Jin are completely new characters, the book is populated with characters you’ll recognize from the fairytales and nursery rhymes you already know.  It’s fun to spot them as the story goes along.  Of course, we’ve got a little different spin on them here, which makes it all the more fun.

And all the characters are fantastic.  I really do like Lena and Jin and several of the other characters we’ve met along the way.  Well, I don’t like the villains, but we aren’t supposed to like them, right?  Still, they do their job of creating conflict to draw us into the story.

And what a wild ride the story is.  The further I got into the book, the more I was pulled into the story.  Lena and Jin face plenty of complication and danger.  And just when things are looking good, we get a cliffhanger.  I’m glad the next in the series is coming out this fall.

Yes, this is a book aimed at middle graders.  They’ll relate to the characters and enjoy the adventure.  But any adults who pick it up will enjoy it just as much.

If you are looking for a fun twist on fairytales, I definitely recommend Once Upon Another Time.  You’ll quickly get lost in this fantasy world.

Looking for more?  Here are the rest of the Half Upon a Time and the sequel Once Upon Another Time trilogy.

This review is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.


  1. Sounds a fun series, and definitely one I will watch out for! Thanks for the review!

  2. Oh, thanks for introducing me to this series, and the first series. It sounds like a really fun take on fairytales. A giant and a genie. Love the idea.

  3. Loved the first series so I can't wait to dive into this one. Thanks for the great review and for featuring it today on MMGM.

  4. I never read the first series- but it has been on my list for ages. Maybe now is the time to read it since this series is out. Both series sound like a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing. :)

  5. I have so many fairy tale retellings, but it's gotten to the point where very few of my students are familiar with the originals, so they don't check out much. We used to do fairy tale units in the language arts classes (I have Cinderella tales from all over the world!), but that was dropped about five years ago. Does look like a fun tale, though!

  6. I like stories with fun connections to fairy tales. This sounds pretty good. Thanks for your review.

  7. This does sound good and fun. I'll check out the earlier series too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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