Frank Beddor – The Looking Glass Wars

This was going to be my last try at fairy tale retellings for this month. June is not even halfway over but with only one good novel and one fantastic comic book (which I’d read before), there was simply too much disappointment. And as much as I enjoy pointing out just why I hated a book, I’d much rather read books that I enjoy. And then this little alternate Alice in Wonderland comes along and actually makes it worth my while. It’s not outstanding but I spent a few very enjoyable hours with this book.

by Frank Beddor

published: Dial, 2006
ISBN: 0803731531
pages: 400
copy: paperback
series: Looking Glass Wars #1

my rating: 5/10

first sentence: Everyone thought she had made it up, and she had tolerated more taunting and teasing from other children, more lectures and punishments from grown-ups, than any eleven-year-old should have to bear.

The Myth: Alice was an ordinary girl who stepped through the looking glass and entered a fairy-tale world invented by Lewis Carroll in his famous storybook. The Truth: Wonderland is real. Alyss Heart is the heir to the throne, until her murderous aunt Redd steals the crown and kills Alyss’ parents. To escape Redd, Alyss and her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, must flee to our world through the Pool of Tears. But in the pool, Alyss and Hatter are separated. 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. Yet he gets the story all wrong. Hatter Madigan knows the truth only too well, and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.

What a charming premise for a retelling. Lewis Carroll got it all wrong. Alice didn’t have adventures in Wonderland after following a white rabbit in a waistcoat. Alyss has in fact grown

up to become the Queen of Wonderland. Surrounded by the many wonders of this land of imagination, she was celebrating her seventh birthday, when her evil aunt Redd attacked the Heart Palace, killing many and usurping the throne. Alyss ends up in London where her vivid imagination gets her into more trouble than she expected.

It is ironic, really, how important imagination is in the story. Because Frank Beddor doesn’t leave much open for his readers’ imagination. He tells us everything, explains every little detail and spells out anything that might be doubtful. This is a big pet peeve of mine because I think even little children can handle a little mystery and have their own minds to make up.  Authors who believe they have to explain everything are, in my opinion, underestimating readings – be they teenagers, smaller children, or adults.

The fact that I enjoyed this book despite my misgivings speaks for Beddor. While I always knew exactly who did what and why and there was no mystery left do discover, the story offers some neat ideas. Alyss, at the beginning a seven-year-old somewhat spoiled princess, behaves like a proper child her age. She’s selfish and easily bored, she wants to play with her best friend Dodge and not study how to become a queen. As she grows older, her character goes through a similar growth. Stern and determined to get her revenge, to get her queendom back, there is little left of the carefree child who only wanted to escape her lessons in favor of some childish fun.

This book – as any version of Carroll’s Wonderland should, really – offers a bunch of new words, creatures and ideas. Spirit Danes, for example, look like the front part of dogs but with the backsides of a seal… at least that’s how my brain imagined them and I found it wonderfully quirky and absurd and just went with it. Whether it’s tarty tarts, the Heart Crystal, or the awesome mechanical card deck soldiers, they lent a new layer to goold old Wonderland. That said, the beautiful concept art over on the LGW homepage did as much, if not more, to make these creatures come to life in my head. The pictures make the story feel epic and like a mix between Victorian absurdist literature and Sci-Fi.

Frank Beddor clearly tried to bring the war part of the Looking Glass Wars to life. Unfortunately, I have possibly never read fight scenes that were quite as boring as the ones in this book. The main characters are always ridiculously safe and any conflict that appears is resolved too easily for my taste. In fact, the closer I got to the end, the more obvious it became that there are some great ideas in this story that were badly executed. The frequent use of comic book sound words got on my nerves pretty quickly. “Kerboosh”, “plang”, and “thwip thwip thwip” are nice in comics but, come one!  For my part, I would have loved to see what a different writer could have done with the premise. I’m not sure if I’ll be back for another adventure in Wonderland. A story is supposed to get better and more interesting towards the end, not the other way around.

THE GOOD: Very interesting ideas, a quickly-moving plot and even a little romance that I found convincing and refreshingly subtle.
THE BAD: The style reminds me of books for very small children. Everything is spelled out, nothing left for the imagination. In certain scenes the bad writing becomes painfully obvious and left me sadly detached from the story.
THE VERDIC: An ok book. I don’t consider it a waste of time but it didn’t leave me wanting more either.

RATING: 5/10 Meh

The series:

  1. The Looking Glass Wars
  2. Seeing Redd
  3. Archenemy

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