Juushika's Reviews > The Looking Glass Wars

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
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's review
Aug 28, 2008

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Read in August, 2008

Alyss Heart is the princess of Wonderland, destined someday to be its queen. But on her seventh birthday, her exiled aunt Redd slaughters her family and takes the throne as her own. Alyss flees Wonderland and ends up in our world, where she must struggle through mundane life until she has the strength and means to return and claim her throne. The Looking Glass Wars is written as the "true story" of Alyss/Alice and Wonderland—some of the aspects are familiar from Carroll's books, but characters are reimagined and the story is completely new. The novel is vivid and engaging, swiftly readable, and imaginative. However, Redd is a comically exaggerated antagonist, and this book pales against Carroll's original Wonderland novels. It's a swift and harmless book, but I don't particularly recommend it.

Beddor's novel is based on the premise that Alyss (called Alice by her adopted family) told Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) the story of her life in Wonderland—and then Carroll wrote a book about it and got it all wrong. The Looking Glass Wars, therefore, is the true account of Wonderland and Alyss's life. The white rabbit becomes Alyss's albino tutor Bibwit Harte, the Mad Hatter is actually bodyguard Hatter Madigan, and so other aspects from Carroll's books appear, reimagined and reformed. The plot of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is entirely replaced by the story of Redd's reign of terror and Alyss's journey to take back the throne. This premise is intriguing, and Beddor fills it with interesting inventions, steampunk-esque world building, and battles—many battles and a fair amount of violence, which aim to make Alyss's journey both difficult and important. With all of the action and new ideas, the book is intriguing, vivid, and swiftly paced.

Unfortunately, Beddor's inventions aren't as wonderful as they first seem. Queen Redd brings ruin to Wonderland, but she is merely evil for the sake of being evil: she is so brash, so loud, so over the top that she becomes a comically exaggerated antagonist. Her comic nature overwhelms the threat and danger that she poses and strips all subtlety from the book. Even worse, Beddor's Wonderland simply pales in comparison to Carroll's original books (ironic, considering how disrespectful he is to his source material). There are some quirky inventions, some vivid characters, and an interesting plot, but Beddor simply lacks the wonder and true absurdity that Carroll writes so well. The Looking Glass Wars is a weak homage at best, and it's not particularly meaningful or memorable. The reader would do far better simply to read Carroll's books.

I love Alice in Wonderland—the original books, retellings, and works inspired by it as well. I did not, however, love The Looking Glass Wars. It's an interesting concept with many promising aspects, and the book reads swiftly. But Beddor writes only a weak mimicry of the absurdity, word play, transformation, and above all the sense of true wonder that makes Alice in Wonderland such a delight. Nor is his new interpretation particularly meaningful (his new Wonderland isn't particularly memorable, and the books themes lack subtlety), and his only brave act is to decry Carroll's source material as foolishly weak and incorrect. There's no harm in checking this book out if you're interested, and it's a good book to borrow from the library. However, I wasn't impressed and I don't recommend it. I wish I'd just reread Carroll's original books instead.
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