Friday, May 02, 2008

Review - The Looking Glass Wars

To the Carroll/Alice purests, don't read this book as a tribute/spin-off/etc and you'll be fine. To the rest of you, enjoy.

That said, let me say that I loved this book. I read Alice (Wonderland and Looking Glass) this past semester for a children's lit class so it was cool to approach this book with those stories so recently reimpressed on my mind. However, you definitely don't NEED those books close at hand to enjoy this book. In fact, as many Carroll lovers vehemently point out, this book is very different from the original Alice books. But then, if you want to get down to it, Beddor and the publisher make that quite clear...this is NOT the Alice you know. Lewis Carroll got it all wrong.

That's not to say you won't find it interesting to have some Alice/Carroll knowledge hanging around. Beddor does a good job of showing us tidbits of "true" history in this story. He weaves in bits of Alice's and Carroll's history throughout the story. But it's not essential that you know what is "fact" and what is "fiction" in order to enjoy this.

So, approach this book like you would any good adventure-fantasy book and prepare to be amazed. While his concepts are not entirely unique, Beddor does a great way of weaving them together in new and intriguing ways to weave together a great story. Some of the characters familiar to you from the earlier Alice books will be present, but they will take on exciting and interesting new roles. The world of Wonderland is a complex place will interesting rules and methods not present in Carroll's Wonderland.

The thrust of the plot is a political power struggle and the war that results. Even then, the politics are fairly lightweight and don't detract from the other main plot. The other main plot is one that remains strangely true to the original Alice...the heart of that plot being Alyss' struggle for personal identity. Alyss is tossed into our non-wonderful world and finds herself mocked and misunderstood for her vivid imagination and wild stories about Wonderland. After a long time of struggling, her despair gets the better of her and she denies her previous self. (possible spoiler) When she gets back to Wonderland, she has to struggle with that identity of her past and rekindle her belief and sense of wonder in order to help win the war.

The characters were great. The introspection with Alyss, particularly as we approach and climax at the final battle, is exquisitely drawn out. Hatter is a bit stoic for my taste, but believable. And I wanted a little more out of Dodge at the end of the book.

My two main criticisms with the book are: time and dialog.

Time passes VERY quickly and sporadically in this book. Sometimes spanning years in a couple of sentences and other times very drawn out (there's actually a sort of suspension of time as Alyss attempts a certain test, but I won't spoil that by explaining it). Most of the time, this worked well. But there were quite a few times where I found myself disoriented and trying to figure out 'when' I was. This was particularly the case during the main chapters following Alyss' life in 'our world.' She enters our world at age 7. I had a hard time distinguishing how long she actually spent on the (spoilers?) streets with the orphans, how long in the orphanage, how long with the Liddell's before meeting Dodgson, how long..., how long..., etc. Time whipped by.

While I admit that the "real world" wasn't the crux of the story, I would like to have seen the architecture of the timeline stabalized a bit more. It was also problematic to try and gauge distances by time as Alyss and her company trekked across the landscape of Wonderland under Redd's ever attentive eye and her Seekers. My thinking was that some of these journeys should have taken days...or weeks. And yet we're not given any indication as to duration which left it feeling like hours or minutes. This is especially true for me as the group makes their final trek to mount the final assault against Redd. Based on the descriptions of the landscape, I expected this to take a day or more. However, the reactions of Redd and her group made it feel like it was a quick trip...couple that with the way Alyss and company actually approach, and it gets even shorter.

So time was off-putting to me.

The dialog was generally really very, very good. Lines felt sincere and true to the characters. The tone and voice was consistent and sounded good.

My main difficulty was in lack of speaker acknowledgement at times. There were occasions where a line or two of dialog appears suddenly without any "Alyss said" or "Hatter grunted" or any of that. Usually you could figure it out by context, but I found myself having to reread some lines to be sure.

The most common were in the handful of exclamations that were more sound than dialog -- "Aah", for example. It's a great effect that jolts the reader into the sense of shock or pain of the character, but without an identifier, it distracted from the moment if I had to try and deduce which character just got slammed or whatever.

The other problem was that the words and phrases sometimes sounded too modern for the time. I can write some of this away by the explanation of the relation between Wonderland and our world. It seems that (as evidenced by the inventions sent through the heart crystal), our world is somewhat behind Wonderland and relies on Wonderland for its innovation and progress. If that's the case, then this could be presented as an explanation (albeit rickety) for the modern tone of some of the speech.

Still. All in all, I loved this and look forward to the next book in the series.
4 out of 5 stars.

1 comment:

LGW Librarian said...

Many thanks for your enthusiastic leap into the Pool of Tears assisting Princess Alyss and Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan with their harrowing adventures into pop culture.

We would like to share with you new revelations from Wonderland as they come into the Looking Glass Wars Library and Hatter M Institute. If you’re interested in receiving this confidential material, before it becomes public, please supply a secure email address.

The LGW Librarian