What seems like an eternity ago – newborn children will do that to your sense of time – I read the first two books in the Looking Glass Wars series by Frank Beddor. The idea was to have a contest, book reviews, maybe even an interview with the author. I even contemplated re-reading the Alice in Wonderland series to compare and contrast. I had high hopes of an interesting and entertaining coordinated roll out of content. Well, as you are all aware – or maybe you aren’t – life intervened and none of this happened. OK, we had the contest and a winner, but nothing else. I have, however, regrouped somewhat and will now offer my review of the books. Better late than never, right?
The first book in the series is The Looking Glass Wars. As is my habit, I am going to be lazy and use the School Library Journal summary:
When her parents, the king and queen of Wonderland, are killed by her Aunt Redd, Alyss Heart escapes by jumping into the Pool of Tears. Her jump takes her to Victorian Oxford, where she emerges from a puddle, lives as a street urchin, and is eventually adopted by Reverend and Mrs. Liddell. Unable to make anyone believe her fantastic story, she finally confides in Charles Dodgson, who says he will write a book about her. When she discovers that Alice’s Adventures Underground is full of make-believe, and not her story or her real name, she sadly resigns herself to life as a Victorian girl of privilege. Meanwhile, back in Wonderland, the Alyssians form a resistance movement and attempt to overthrow the despotic Redd. For years, Hatter Madigan searches the world for Alyss so she can return to Wonderland as Queen. In the end, the Alyssians prevail, but only after much graphic bloodshed and many brutal battles involving card soldiers who transform into warriors, chessmen, blades that whirl and slash, vicious Jabberwocks, and even carnivorous roses.
The tale is clever and flows like an animated film where action is more important than character development. However, it bears little resemblance to Lewis Carroll’s original story. Beddor has usurped the characters and setting and changed them for his own purposes, keeping only the story’s frame and not much of that. Still, the fantasy will appeal to those readers who like battles and weapons and good vs. evil on and on and on.
For my take on the book read below . . .
There are two points here worth reiterating:
- Alice in Wonderland is really just a jumping off point for Beddor’s imagination. If you are looking for any subtle or literary use of the original story you will be disappointed. Instead, Beddor takes some characters and turns it into a violent sci-fi Hollywood action story.
- Relatedly, if you are looking for plot and character development on an adult level you will again be disappointed. The emphasis is on action and speed not on characters.
The obvious question is whether this weakens one’s enjoyment of the book(s). I would answer with a qualified, no. As long as you keep your expectations in check, Beddor offers a fast paced and creative story (Here is a good example of someone whose high expectations were not met).
One benefit of the nature of this particular pastiche is that it doesn’t really require anything other than a vague sense of the original story; and probably not even that. It isn’t aimed at those who read and loved the original but instead uses its famous characters to build another world entirely. This likely makes it more enjoyable for young adults or adults not tuned into the literary aspects of the original. It is a tad violent as well, so parents will want to be aware of that. According to the publisher it is aimed at kids in grades 4-7.
It does have the feel of a book destined to be turned into a movie or a game, but it does have its good qualities. The Hatter Madigan character is cool in a deadly assassin kind of way. And the evil Aunt Redd is an attractive antagonist; with a sort of “yeah, I’m evil you got a problem with that?” attitude. The concept of the pool of mirrors and looking glasses as ways to travel between worlds and within Wonderland respectively are creative.
Everything about the books has a more visual appeal. The illustrations, the web site, the comics, etc. This is not real surprising from an author with experience in the movies, but the flip side is that that literary aspects of the series seem thin somehow. It has the feel of a great concept but not a great novel.
So all in all it was entertaining, but in a limited way. I have read a decent amount of young adult fantasy type fiction and this isn’t among the best by any stretch. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. Like when you just want a brainless action flick to watch at home. If you are looking for subtlety or finesse, look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you simply enjoy action and low level violence with a creative twist, you might enjoy The Looking Glass Wars.