Saturday, May 1, 2010

Arty -- The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

First, a quick note: I've never been a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland. I love the Disney movie, but Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have always been of middling interest to me. Maybe I just enjoy stricter logic than Carroll presents. In that respect, it feels like The Looking Glass Wars was written for people like me.

Alyss Heart, Princess of Wonderland, lived in a land that every little child dreams about. Anything - anything - she imagines comes true. That's the way thing works in Wonderland. And even though she's only seven years old, Alyss already has one of the most powerful imaginations ever seen.

Then, on the day of Alyss's seventh birthday, her murderous Aunt Redd reappears. Redd was exiled after a bloody civil war with her sister, Queen Genevieve, over the queendom. But now, with an army of card soldiers and the power of Black Imagination on her side, Redd attacks and murders Queen Genevieve, King Nolan, and almost everyone else... except for Alyss. She escapes, with the help of Hatter Madigan, the Queen's bodyguard, through the Pool of Tears. The Pool of Tears leads to Earth, in the middle 1800s. There, Alyss and Hatter are separated. Hatter searches vigilantly for Alyss, but Alyss slowly succumbs to the idea that Wonderland never existed.

Of course, that's just the first half of the book. The second half centers on the Alyssians, the Wonderland freedom fighters, getting Alyss back to Wonderland and back to saving the land from Queen Redd, 'Her Royal Viciousness.' But I don't want to give the whole book away.

I'm really at a loss at how to describe the Looking Glass Wars. One side of my brain says that I really loved it, that it was fascinating, enthralling, original but just enough like Alice in Wonderland to be recognizable. The other half says - what exactly did they do for nigh on three hundred pages?

I guess one way to put it is that Beddor excels in creating believable characters, realistic situations, attractive settings (or unattractive, whichever is the goal), and the overlaying idea of the whole novel. What he doesn't excel in is the actual action that follows the exposition and setting-up. The psychological conflict between Redd and Alyss and the Alyssians is nicely done; the physical conflict, the final battle, isn't. The former is well-paced, gradually rising in intensity, satisfying; the latter isn't.

Where Beddor excels, he really does excel. The characters taken from (or for) Alice in Wonderland - Bibwit Harte, Alyss tutor, Hatter Madigan (the Mad Hatter), the Cat (the Cheshire Cat) - are all recognizable but just foreign enough. The ones Beddor created - Dodge Anders, Jack of Diamonds - feel like they should have had a place in Wonderland. In my humble opinion, anyway.

If you're not afraid of an almost disappointingly easy conflict resolve, I would recommend the Looking Glass Wars to anyone with the patience for a lot of great world- and character building. This is the first book in a trilogy - the second is Seeing Redd, and the third is ArchEnemy - so I'm assuming there'll be less setting-up and more action in the next books. I also just discovered a comic series called Hatter M, an elaboration on the thirteen years Hatter Madigan spent on Earth looking for Alyss. Definitely one I'll try to get my hands on.

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