Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

There's nothing like a good young adult book to take a break from the real world. Especially with the incredible flowering of fantasy novels that have emerged in the wake of the Harry Potter phenomenon. There were tons of great young adult fantasies well before J. K. Rowling, but there presence in bookstores is overwhelming today.

In that vein, I picked up The Looking Glass Wars which my husband had bought and read a year or so ago. He had described the book as entertaining, which in his world means, "I read it in one sitting, ignored the world, and did not go to sleep until 2 am because I wanted to see how it ended." He had purchased it based on the recommendation of a bookstore owner who said Beddor's work was a good addition to the field of young adult adventure fantasy - building on the genre made famous by the now well-known retelling of The Wizard of Oz - Gregory Maguire's Wicked.

So what is the book about? Well, if you look at the title, it becomes vaguely self-evident. Beddor has retold the store of Alice in Wonderland. He begins with Alice Liddell running away from Lewis Carroll in frustration because he has so badly butchered the *true* story she told him about Wonderland. The book then takes the reader back to the life of Alyss Hart, seven year old princess of Wonderland, whose realm is ruled by White Imagination. Her nemesis is none other than Redd, her aunt who works with Black Imagination.

The story is inventive. It meshes well with the well-known story of Alice in Wonderland. But in addition, Beddor creates fascinating and unique characters to flesh out his world. The cards form an army known as "The Cut;" the Mad Hatter becomes Hatter Maddigan a bodyguard to the queen whose hat is his greatest weapon. The Cheshire Cat becomes the ultimate weapon used against the Alyssians (the good guys who follow Alyss) because of his ability to come back to life, yep, you guessed it, nine times.

I liked The Looking Glass Wars for me. But to be honest, I find some of the death, destruction, and violence in many young adult books to be too much for the young adult audience for whom it is written. I may have enjoyed it at 15-16, but as a parent I would not give it to my 12-13 year old to read. Plus, I'm getting a bit tired of retellings of famous works. They're novel, they're inventive. But are there no new ideas left?

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