Written by: Frank Beddor
Book #1 / 3 of The Looking Glass Wars
Review: 3.5 / 4 stars
Summary: When Alyss Heart, newly orphaned heir to the Wonderland throne, flees through the Pool of Tears to escape her murderous Aunt Redd, she finds herself lost and alone in Victorian London. Befriended by an aspiring author named Lewis Carrol, Alyss tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Alyss trusts this author to tell the truth so that someone, somewhere will find her and bring her home. But he gets the story all wrong. Fortunately, Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan knows all too well the awful truth of Alyss’ story – and he’s searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland, to battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.
“For most of the universe’s life is not all gummy wads and tarty tarts; is a struggle against hardship, unfairness, corruption, abuse, and adversity in all its guises, where even to survive – let alone survive with dignity – is heroic. To soldier through the days in the wake of failure is the courageous act of many.”
Review: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times – you place a retelling of Alice In Wonderland in front of me, and I’m going to snatch it right up. I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while and saw it on one of my best friend’s bookshelves, so I whisked it away from her and spent the last few days diving into the world of Alyss Heart. After her castle was attacked and her parents killed at a young age by her murderous aunt Redd (*rolls eyes at name*), she leaps into the Pool of Tears, which displaces her to late nineteenth century England, where she spends time as an orphan, a ward, and then finally, a girl misplaced in a family who doesn’t believe her tales of Wonderland. She spends her entire childhood and adolescence in our world, eventually convincing herself that Wonderland no longer exists, before the war that is being fought in her name sucks her back in to her home, into a war and a rebellion against her aunt and the murderer of her parents.
The actual quality of Beddor’s writing is perhaps the biggest thing keeping this book away from its full greatness. He has created an incredible universe of guerrilla warfare and dystopia, albeit using a construct of someone else’s story, but he doesn’t spend nearly enough time describing events that Alyss is not directly involved in, a missed opportunity. Another missed opportunity is the dialogue, of which I can think of very few significant exchanges between characters beyond the younger versions of Alyss and Dodge. Additionally, the thing that most threw me in this book is that a large portion actually takes place when Alyss returns to Wonderland, even though the summary would have you assume she and Hatter Madigan get into shenanigans on Earth and somehow open a portal between Wonderland and Earth, bringing evil imagination to our world. At least, that’s what I was expecting, so I was definitely a little disappointed. Although it was a fast paced and interesting read, I realized that when the book ended if two tiny little details had been tweaked, it could’ve existed as a stand alone, and that feels weird to me. I usually finish the first book of a series wanting more, or needing more questions answered, but that wasn’t really the case with The Looking Glass Wars, spare one scenario that could’ve been wrapped up had Beddor bothered to. There is one thing I had more than anything in books like these, and its the incidence of coincidence – in this case, the fact that despite having unhindered imagination, Redd still seems too limited to strike down Alyss from afar; that Alyss, despite not using her powers for nearly a decade and a half seems to be able to resume her powers with no issues; that everyone important to Alyss spare her parents survives the initial castle attack and several skirmishes in the forest despite hundreds of others dying; and so on. This mostly happens toward the end of the book, and it would’ve worked just fine if Beddor had ever showed Alyss struggling beyond a few pages, but that isn’t the case. I understand her power is natural and comes from her inner being, but she expresses having difficulty in harnessing “White Imagination” as she calls it on one page, then has mastered it and is replicating herself a bajillion times on the next. Also, the whole scene with her in The Looking Glass getting a scepter made me want to physically groan out loud with its cheesiness, but I digress.
As for the characters, there are some disappointments and some promising characters alike. In the column under “disappointment” are the two main characters – Alyss and Redd. Alyss is a confounding character to me, because I went from hating her as a child to liking her a lot once she returned to Wonderland, but, upon reflecting on the book, I realized there was no reason I should like her. She isn’t particularly brave or honest or loyal, she mysteriously has her powers return with almost no issues, and she seems pretty self-centered, or at least written that way by Beddor. Alyss is a victim of what one of my friends calls “heroine centered writing”, in which the author will do all they can, including skipping key struggles and developments, spending so little time on other characters you sometimes forget they exist, and giving all the best moves or lines in the book to their heroine, to make their heroine look great. It’s basically like a Mary Jane idea, and Alyss is definitely an example of that. Redd, meanwhile, is just crazy, and not even a good crazy; she’s kind of stupid, and that’s not something that I can get with. She’s successful because she’s powerful, not because she’s smart, and that’s just not admirable at all. In the column under “promising”, however, we have a lot of candidates that I hope Beddor spends more time expanding upon – General Doppleganger, one figure that can split into two during a battle; Bibwit Hare, the loyal Royal Tutor; Dodge, Alyss’ childhood friend and immensely vengeful-filled soldier; Hatter Madigan, her badass Royal Bodyguard; and even the “chessmen” or soldiers of the Alyssian army. Even The Cat, Redd’s assassin, and Jack of Diamonds, an entitled, sniveling male hungry for power that I imagine as Joffrey from Game of Thrones, seem to be promising in the sense that individual books on their stories could yield something interesting. The downside of this is that besides Dodge and perhaps a little bit of Hatter Madigan, there is nearly no character development of anyone besides Alyss, which is another missed opportunity for Beddor.
Ultimately, I think this book would have reached 4 stars easily if Beddor had taken advantage of a lot of the missed opportunities in this book, in missing character development, expanding on dialogue, and showing more of the effect of Redd’s tyrannic rule on Wonderland. That being said, it was a very interesting book and a very fast read, and definitely one I would recommend if you enjoying retellings of Alice In Wonderland like I do, no matter how far-fetched they may be. Beddor’s Wonderland is definitely far different from any I’ve read before, and I’m really curious to read more about it. I am excited to pick up the next book in this series, mostly because I’m not really sure how there can be two more entire books in a series since the first book seemed to fix most of the problems, but we will see!