Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review - Archenemy

I'd waited excitedly for the conclusion to this trilogy in the "real" Wonderland. The concept of a "real" wonderland beyond the cartoony nonsense/caricature world was certainly intriguing to me and I had a lot of fun with the world Beddor had already created. I really enjoyed the first novel in the series. The second one fell a little flat for me but was still enjoyable and left us hanging onto a cliff waiting for the exciting conclusion to the events that were set up.

Some of my complaints with the earlier two books are still present. The writing really isn't anything "to write home about." Much of the dialog is trite and the onomatopoeia that accompanies many of the action/battle sequences can be a little distracting. The characters are alright, but many of them feel a little flat most of the time.

Accepting the fact that this is a book written for young(er) boys, I was able to forgive the "literary merit" of the Looking Glass Wars series (being sure to point out that this isn't a book for Wonderland purists or for classical literary enthusiasts/purists). I also acknowledge that Beddor is a moviemaker and these novels definitely feel poised to be presented cinematically.

My biggest complaint with this novel specifically was the use of "foreshadowing." There are two particular instances that absolutely distressed me.

The first instance happens on the first page….the novel "begins" with a scene in which Queen Alyss is fighting with an assassin to save some friends and then tries to make her escape from danger. There is a "date" associated with the event and if you look at the date, you'll notice that it's in the future as compared with the rest of the novel. It's possible that Beddor is playing with this a bit to make this be an "alternate future" seen by the Oracles or something…but he doesn't explain any of that. Instead, he just presents this VERY CRITICAL scene and lets it sit there. Unfortunately, this scene is a HUGE plot point that I feel would have been better presented as a big surprise in the normal course of events. The implications of this scene are enormous. However, I have 200+ pages to contemplate their enormity before the scene 'actually' happens (almost verbatim, I think). As a result, when the scene actually happens, it has lost almost all of its impact and I'm not surprised nor does it feel like any sort of climax. Furthermore, it makes "secret" motives from King Arch a lot less secret. I know a lot of authors like to include a sort of Prologue to stores…and it's alright to have a Prologue act as a foreshadowing…but come on, don't make it an exact presentation of a highly critical and exciting scene that happens at or near the climax of the book. Talk about destroying your story arc!

The second instance of failed foreshadowing was a little less disturbing/dramatic, but was still a little troubling. Early on, we have a scene where one of the Caterpillars appears to Molly and gives her a vision. While I can try to infer the exact importance of that vision and what the Caterpillar was trying to do, I cannot come to any definitive or acceptable conclusion. I can see where "maybe" this 'prophecy' puts some events into motion (maybe…) but even then, the actions that Hatter/Molly take seem peripheral to this prophecy rather than directly impacted by it. At the very end of the novel, Molly does have a critical role to play, but it still seems a bit of a stretch even for the hugely enigmatic message from the Oracle. If this prophecy was truly important, the author should have made its importance more apparent.

All of that aside, I did enjoy the way this third novel wrapped up the series.

I enjoyed the growth in Alyss' character as she acknowledged the responsibilities of being queen and champion of White Imagination and as she then rose to the occasion to try and exemplify that role while at the same time being a compassionate and loving friend. Dodge's character took on similar growth, albeit to a less dramatic extent. Hatter and Molly seemed to expand as well, though their character's evolutions were largely minimized which made me a little sad. Most of the other characters were slightly fleshed out stereotypes which, while interesting (especially the dynamic between Arch and Rose) were not terribly compelling.

The strangest characters, which figured prominently in the book, were the Caterpillars. Because of their prominent involvement in the plot, I can't say much…but I think I would have liked to have seen (even though I really didn't like their dialog style) more scenes focussed on the Caterpillars.

The story arc was enjoyable and the tumult of activity within Wonderland was exciting to follow. I was very curious about the "Anti-Imaginationists" and would have enjoyed more details about them, even though they were largely puppets in Arch's plan. Rose's army was still very creepy and I love some of the details there. The ebb and flow of Imagination's power from the Heart Crystal felt underplayed and/or under-explained, but it did provide nice tension to the fluctuating balance.

The climactic flow and the final wrap up felt rather weak and somewhat contrived (the weakness largely due to the failed foreshadowing I mentioned above as well as lack of development in some key points such as the Imaginationist prison camps or the tension between Rose's assassins and those they were forced to work with). The creation of "Everqueen" (which was considered as an alternate title to the book) left me somewhat confused and slightly dissatisfied. Everqueen had been alluded to briefly a couple of times and when Everqueen was finally presented, there was not sufficient elaboration on the importance/significance. Again, since this came from the Caterpillars, it's fitting with their character, but I would have loved to have perhaps seen Bibwit expound on the virtues of Everqueen or something.

Looking back on this (lengthier than I anticipated) review, I have a lot of complaints. Perhaps I'm being too critical…because I really did enjoy this story. I think I was just hoping for more out of the book. It's an entertaining book and a fun and intriguing story in a cool world with cool characters…but it is also definitely a "fluff" book whereas I saw potential for deeper, more thought provoking themes.

Overall, recommended for adventure seekers who are looking for some light reading. You probably shouldn't jump right into Book 3…you may be able to start in Book 2, but I personally liked Book 1 the best, so I'd suggest just reading the series as it's presented.

3 out of 5 stars

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