Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review: The Looking Glass Wars

This is a catch-all review for the three novels making up the Looking Glass Wars series, by Frank Beddor. These books include The Looking Glass Wars, Seeing Redd and Arch Enemy, the last of which came out late 2009.

A fan of reimagined worlds, I first heard about this “true” history of Wonderland through the Hatter M comic books. (A good read if you’re into those funny books.) The idea is simple- Charles Dodgeson (A.K.A. Lewis Caroll) got it all wrong.

While on the run from her murderous aunt Redd, Alyss (because even her name was spelled wrong) winds up on earth where she tells her life story to Charles Dodgeson. Thinking her tales fancy, Dodgeson records them as two novels telling a story that barely resembles the “facts.”

Alyss was, in fact, heir to Wonderland's throne, a position her evil aunt aims to claim. Hatter Madigan is a blade-wielding military genius, the Cheshire cat is a shape-shifting assassin and the white rabbit is actually an albino tutor by the name of Bibwit Harte.

The Looking Glass Wars picks up with Redd making an aggressive move for Wonderland’s crown, resulting in Alyss’ exile on Earth.

While interesting to see someone else’s take on the story, where card soldiers are mechanized gun-wielders and mirrors are used as a form of everyday transportation, the opening of the trilogy was only decent. I didn’t find myself blazing through the pages, eager to find out what happens next, but I did like what Beddor was doing with the source material and thought the second book in the series deserved a look-see.

I’m glad I stuck with it. Seeing Redd is my favorite of the lot. There’s more action, more interesting characters, a more complex and involving plot and Beddor himself improves as a writer. It was like, with one novel under his belt and his familiarity with the world and its characters growing, a newfound confidence turned a decent story into a great fantasy epic.

With a third party now vying for control of Wonderland, three separate stories weave in and out of each other from battlefield to battlefield, double cross to double cross. The trilogy actually follows a pretty solid arc rather than building to an over-the-top conclusion and it’s appropriate, then, that the big action takes place in Seeing Redd.

Onto book three, Arch Enemy, and the excitement from Seeing Redd begins to simmer down into what will eventually be a satisfying conclusion. While the best battles took place in Seeing Redd, Arch Enemy still packs quite a few punches and a final showdown that, while not as big as you might hope, ties up all the loose ends quite nicely. Arch Enemy is slower, more thoughtful and coasts along smoothly.

I finished Arch Enemy a few weeks ago and, given the current Wonderland craze, I thought I should give folks a heads up that there’s more material out there for those who wish to linger down the rabbit hole a bit longer.

Fans of Wonderland will enjoy The Looking Glass Wars trilogy quite a bit, as will teens. Older readers with no real attachment to the classic curious tales, though, would do well to move on to something else.

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