Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

The Looking Glass Wars  -- Frank Beddor
September 2004 by Dial Books
384 pages Goodreads

You know the myth... A little girl named Alice tumbled down a rabbit hole and proceeded to have a charming adventure in the delightful, made-up world of Wonderland...

Now discover the truth... Wonderland Exists!

Alyss Heart, heir to the Wonderland throne, was forced to flee through the Pool of Tears after a bloody palace coup staged by the murderous Redd. Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author to whom she tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life only to see it published as the nonsensical Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Alyss had trusted Lewis Carroll to tell the truth so that someone, somewhere would find her and bring her home. But Carroll had gotten it all wrong. He even misspelled her name! If not for royal bodyguard Hatter Madigan's nonstop search to locate the lost princess, Alyss may have become just another society woman sipping tea in a too-tight corset instead of returning to Wonderland to fight Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.

Meet the heroic, passionate, monstrous, vengeful denizens of this parallel world as they battle each other with AD-52's and orb generators, navigate the Crystal Continuum, bet on jabberwock fights and travel across the Chessboard Desert.

This book was a lot of fun.  High 3, low 4.  The premise was very interesting:  Carroll got it wrong; Alyss is the escaped Wonderlandian princess.  I really liked Beddor's take on Wonderland.  He preserved the feeling of whimsy and possibility while grounding his novel in something concrete.

Despite much of the book being centered around a 7-year old girl, the book did not feel simplistic.  I loved Alyss's development.  She isn't the chosen one--she is a lost little girl who doesn't know how to cope with the foreign world she's been dropped into, who isn't quite sure if she's mad or sane, who just wants to find a place she belongs.

I felt the character development could have been taken a bit farther.  Let's face it; I'm used to Brandon Sanderson and want all the characters developed in depth, even the minor ones.  But in a fairy tale retelling I especially love to see the villain developed, and that didn't really happen here.  We just get the standard queen who's evil because she's evil, but Beddor set himself up with potential to develop Redd.  The sister who should have inherited the throne but was disowned, so she stages not a coup, but retakes what is rightfully hers.  Beddor could definitely go places in later books; hopefully he will.

I hope he also looks more closely at Dodge.  Beddor didn't neglect Dodge or anything like that; I'm just really interested in where his character goes.  He's so focused on revenge, focused on the pain he's been carrying around.  His character could go interesting directions.

Hatter is awesome.  End of story.  Beddor seems to have written some graphic novel tie-ins all about Hatter, which I will probably check out.

I wished the power of Imagination had been more fully explained.  It is limitless and arbitrary, and Alyss's acquiring of super-Imagination in the maze felt too dues ex machina.  She became the warrior queen without any real effort or training.  Yes, the maze tested her, but you don't pick up ninja skills without a little practice.  No, Alyss isn't a ninja, but that would be another really interesting premise.

Thank you Beddor for not having a swoony female lead and for not putting the romance front and center.  The romance is actually a very small part of the book, if even that.  Alyss and Dodge could almost be considered childhood sweethearts, but so much has happened since then that they're held together more by the memory of their old friendship than by star-crossed were meant to be together-ness.

I think I would have loved this if I had read it during high school.  Now it has elements that bug me just a bit, but it stands out from the standard YA.  In any case, it's a fun adventure and a new take on an old story.

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