The Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor

The Looking Glass Wars

“He’d transformed her memories of a world alive with hope and possibility and danger into make-believe, the foolish stuff of children.”

So says Alice Liddell, or rather, Alyss, about Charles Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll’s) new book, Alice in Wonderland. Dodgson has collected all of Alyss’ shared recollections about a place from her earliest memories and turned them into…ptui!…popular fiction for young adults. He’s even spelled her name wrong.

She’s very upset about this.

I wasn’t too happy either.

In The Looking Glass Wars, Frank Beddor gives us the first installment of a series of tales about Wonderland, from the other side of the looking glass. His Wonderland is a real place, an alternate dimension from the Earth we know, where imagination is the power to create reality. Alyss is the presumptive heir to the throne, the next Queen of Hearts, until her fairytale future is shattered by a bloody coup engineered by her Aunt Redd, a seriously disturbed royal who didn’t meet the sanity standard for queenship. Heads roll, and Alyss flees into exile, falling through a watery portal into Victorian England, where she’s eventually adopted by the good Reverend Liddell and his family, her memories of Wonderland fading over the years.

After her altercation with Mr. Dodgson, Alyss spends another few years in limbo until she’s discovered by a long-lost retainer from Wonderland who’s been searching for her ever since they were separated during their flight from Redd. He arrives just in time to avert Alyss’ impending marriage to a British royal. Together, they return to Wonderland to set things right, but Redd’s firmly established on the throne, and unseating her won’t be easy.

Sigh. I just got done beating up on Orson Scott Card for trying to “reimagine” classic literature. I guess that’s just one of my pet peeves. The Looking Glass Wars isn’t a bad story. It’s well-written and showcases Mr. Beddor’s creativity in his vision of Wonderland. Unlike the original Alice in Wonderland, though, there’s no poetry or profound feeling of strangeness that immerses the reader in a completely alien realm. If anything, this Wonderland might seem a little too familiar to anybody who’s been to the movies in the last five or ten years. It tells a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but it never took hold of me. It was pleasant, but not compelling.

Yes, this is a “young adult” book, but I’ve still got enough kid in me to get wrapped up in a good kids’ story, when I find one.

I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This: The Penguin Speak paperback copy I bought was a nice product. The cover had a coppery sheen to it, the backcover copy told me everything I needed to know about the story inside, and the artwork was attractive. Unfortunately, the depictions of the card soldiers, including the descriptive text within the story, painted a picture uncomfortably like the droid troopers from the Star Wars movies. I was waiting for one of them to sound off with a cheery, “Roger-roger,” but they remained mercifully silent. There are interior color plates with more cool artwork, very pretty and creepy in an American McGee’s Alice sort of way.

Spies Like Us: One of the reimaginings that I thought was fun and mostly worked was casting the Mad Hatter as a sort of covert agent/bodyguard, part of a network of agents known collectively as “The Millinery.” Lots of sharp objects are tossed about, including hats that morph into nasty, razor-edged weapons ala Oddjob from the James Bond movies. Alyss picks up a personal bodyguard toward the end of the story by the name of Homburg Molly, who’s a very focused apprentice spy and one of the few characters not cribbed from Alice in Wonderland, which may be one reason I found her so appealing. The poor Cheshire Cat appears as a humorless cybernetic assassin on Redd’s team who loses his nine lives one-by-one, mostly at the hands of his homicidal mistress.

Up in Smoke: There are multiple Caterpillars in the story, and they’re all mystic sages of some sort (nobody who plays around with the Alice stories seems to be able to think of anything else to do with them), but as in the original, they’re not much help.  We still have no idea what’s getting smoked in that hookah.

Bottom Line: The Looking Glass Wars is an interesting “reimagining” of the Alice in Wonderland mythos, but it fell a little flat for me. There’s some very creative worldbuilding. The secondary characters created by Beddor for this story are a bright spot, and I expect them to grow into star players by the end of this series. Not a bad read, especially for an older tween, but, for the love of all that’s good and true, introduce them to Lewis Carroll’s immortal works first.

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