The Looking Glass Wars
The recent postmodern literary trend toward unorthodox retellings of classic or traditional tales has resulted in a wealth of offerings, ranging in quality from excellent to downright lame. And while Frank Beddor’s Alice in Wonderland remix may lack the scintillating literary brilliance of Gregory Maguire’s Wizard of Oz treatment, it also lacks that book’s moral ambiguity and adult content. The Looking Glass Wars may not be particularly thought-provoking, but it’s a real charm to read.
It’s been a long time since I read Alice in Wonderland, but I’m pretty sure this book hasn’t got much to do with the original. Alyss Heart is a dispossessed princess fighting to regain the throne of Wonderland (after a forced exile in our world, of course), while her companions include the albino tutor Bibwit Harte (who happens to have very large and sensitive ears) and Hatter Madigan, the tragically heroic warrior who is head of Wonderland’s elite (and well-dressed) fighting forces, known collectively as the Millinery. Most authors who attempt a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reworking of a classic along these lines end up floundering in their tone, unable to make their books both genuinely humorous and worth reading. (Often as not they achieve neither goal.) But Beddor strikes just the right tone in this book, allowing a generous amount of lighthearted silliness and even wink-wink sarcasm to pervade his storytelling, while still somehow making the reader genuinely care about the characters. Plus the story sparkles with clever and unrestrained creativity. Consider this invention: “A few of the card soldiers were armed with AD52s — automatic dealers capable of shooting razor-sharp projectiles the size and shape of ordinary playing cards at the rate of fifty-two per second.” Fun stuff.
Where some postmodern authors revel in revisionism, taking it as a cue to re-imagine traditional morality as well as traditional tales, Beddor avoids this route, instead opting for clichéd yet positive moral messages: revenge is bad, selflessness is good. The bad guys are of the hilariously overstated variety, yet actually manage to be both genuinely funny and genuinely evil. Oh, and to top it all off, this book is the first volume in a trilogy (hooray!), yet it has a complete plot and a conclusive ending (double hooray!).