Monday, June 08, 2009

Review - Son of a Witch

Son of a Witch: A NovelA year or so ago I read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, and found it pretty enjoyable and thought provoking. Enough so that I picked up the follow-up book, Son of a Witch. It took a while to finally getting around to reading the second book...and by now I've seen the musical and forgotten elements of the first book (which are definitely radically changed for the musical).

My overall feeling is that Son of a Witch has way too much going on and isn't terribly focused. While Wicked had a moderately clear message it was trying to convey, I often felt lost as to the direction Son of Witch was going. Perhaps it was done intentionally by Maguire to help us feel just as uneasy and confused as Liir. If so, I think it went a little overboard. It also felt like many aspects of the text were there for shock value rather than substance since many of the actions and themes were just dropped in the reader's lap without any further discussion or contemplation by the narrative.

The narrative style was a bit confusing at first, transitioning between current action and dream/coma flashbacks. I got used to that style fairly quickly, but then the coma ended...apparently before Maguire was done with the backstory, because the next many chapters continued the flashback tale even though Liir was no longer in his coma. It wasn't awful, just a little unsettling and felt like bad planning from the author. Once the backstory has finalized, Liir just seems to wander idly around Oz, picking up quest after quest, but not really focusing whole heartedly on any one task. He constantly behaves like a victim of circumstance, all the while bemoaning his fate and his lack of action.

The main storyline, once extracted from all the extraneous threads in the book, was actually fairly interesting. Over the course of Liir's young life, Oz is transitioning between one political faction after another. While the changes of power are relatively free of violence, each new ruler brings new trials, disasters, repressions and violence. The flashback history while Liir's in a coma takes us through a couple of puppet governments (one almost literally with the Scarecrow...though "not Dorothy's Scarecrow") and finally leaving us with the Emperor. Liir becomes aware of the vile machinations of the Emperor and disagrees with the actions of the government. He helps uncover a mystery plaguing many travelers around Oz (a violent and tragic "face scraping" of travelers...which threatens to throw rival groups into war, or at least keep them from any form of peace). Liir even leads a small rebellion against the Emperor, but he really isn't motivated in this and just sort of wanders off.

Generally, this book felt like it was trying to make a number of political and social statements but in the end it just felt like a statement about inaction, complacency and finding your own purpose. Any statement was muddled amid too many distractions. There were many great paragraphs and "sound bites" that would make for cool one-off quotes, but the ideas weren't lasting enough to help pull the book off.

All of that said, I am still interested enough in the vivid and intriguing Oz that Maguire has crafted, such that I will likely seek out the third book (A Lion Among Men) to see what happens next. But sadly, my expectations have fallen a bit.

2.5 stars (out of 5)


Alicia said...

Ah, I've been waiting for this. Thanks for the review. I'm still not sure if I want to pursue this one yet... Call me a romantic, but I'm kind of happy with the way the musical ended the first one. (Although I absolutely loved the themes of the novel, and even re-read some of it after I saw the play. Good stuff.)
Thanks, Okie!

Okie said...

Yeah, the musical ending was definitely happier than the book. Since Son of a Witch was written after the musical, I keep wondering if Maguire was going to pull the musical ending into the new book somehow...he didn't, which is probably for the best.

The themes in this book were interesting and thought provoking, but I definitely felt like Wicked had a stronger presence. I'll eventually read Lion Among Men to find out if perhaps SoaW is just a "bridge" book that will make more sense later, or if it's a trend for Maguire's Oz. I'm hopeful that Lion will be stronger and resolve (or at least more coherently address) some of the threads that were just thrown out there in Son