The Looking Glass Wars

Hello! Happy New Year!

By Frank Beddor [LibraryThing]

The day Princess Alyss Heart turns seven, exiled Queen Redd attacks and takes over Wonderland. Forced to flee for her life, Alyss falls through the Pool of Tears and lands in England in the 1850s. Abandoned and alone, she loses her magic. Meanwhile, Redd rules Wonderland with an iron fist, and only a small band of rebels resists her. Their only hope is that somehow, Alyss can be brought home to take back the country that is rightfully hers.

This is a frustrating book. It’s got plenty of good ideas in it, but it reads like Beddor just had a bunch of awesome Wonderland-related ideas and threw them all into the book, without actually picking anything to focus on. The book starts and stops repeatedly: first it’s about Alyss’ escape and what’s going to happen to a war-torn Wonderland. Alyss shows up in England, and the book seems sort of like a riff off of Oliver, but with a girl — who has magic! I would love to read that book. But Looking Glass Wars is not that book either, because then there’s a really lengthy segment about how Alyss (now Alice) grows up and is adopted and forces herself to forget Wonderland and marries a prince (no, really, a real prince), and then it starts again when she gets back to Wonderland and has to remember how to use magic to save everyone. That is too many stories. Any one of them (except the dull middle section) would have made for a fine novel, but all together, it meant the novel was scattered.

The worldbuilding was also shaky. Part of it is that Wonderland isn’t really designed to be a physical, mappable place; it’s more like a dream than a country. Elements like Redd’s evil casinos and the urban decay imagination-drug addicts don’t fit into the fantasy world, and way more time was spent explaining things like how the looking glass worked than was necessary. My very smart older sister just read it and pointed out that the book can’t even decide if the strange things in Wonderland are real or not; on the one hand, the White Rabbit has been reimagined as an albino human with enormous ears, whose name anagrams to “white rabbit,” and the Mad Hatter is actually a bodyguard named Hatter Madigan; but on the other hand, you have an actual walrus wandering around the palace.

Also, because it’s Wonderland… Look. It’s long-established around these parts that Jess is the blogger who likes whimsy where I tend to shy away from it, but this book needed some whimsy. It didn’t feel at all like the Wonderland that Carroll created. I know it was meant to be a darker, grittier story, but it retained none of the fun of the actual Alice novels.

But my biggest frustration was the end: it was too easy. Spoiler! show

All that said, the book as a whole improved as it went on; despite finding it very, very frustrating, I enjoyed actually reading it well enough. There were even elements I liked — particularly Homburg Molly, a pre-teen rebel who will eventually, presumably, take over the Hatter’s duties. Unfortunately, she wasn’t introduced until almost the end, but she’s the main reason I’m planning to read the sequel. So, even though I am planning to read the next book, this only pulls off two cupcakes.


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