With April still feeling like February, I thought I’d spend more time curled up reading, then enjoying the Spring time air. My boyfriend lent me this, believing I’d like it and strangely enough I’d read Alice In Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass last month. I’d been meaning to write about them too, but I’ve fallen behind with posting up reviews, but they’ll be written soon enough. I’d heard of The Looking Glass Wars before and been interested in them then. However, it’s only now that I’ve got my hands on a copy and read it!
This is actually the first book in a trilogy and I do want to read the other two to see how Frank Beddor continues the story. Actually, as a person this author is pretty interesting, as he is a producer, an actor and a freestyle skier. He was inspired to write by a pack of playing cards he saw in the Museum Of London. He explains about this in the ‘forward’ to the novel and how he was actually told this story by a card dealer. Also that the true story of Wonderland ‘involves bloodshed, murder, revenge and war.’1 So, yeah, a very different story to Lewis Carrol’s then.
To be honest, when I first started reading this, I found it hard to get into. Part of the reason might have been that I did have the Alice In Wonderland characters and plot in my head. I’d so recommend that you forget everything you’ve ever known about Carrol’s stories before you start reading this. The Looking Glass Wars is not a re-telling of the classic story, more it uses Alice in Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass as a loose base for the main characters and the setting. Saying that, I was wondering that if this book didn’t have the Alice connection, would it have been published and been able to have achieved the readership it has?
Standing alone as a fantasy story, this novel does seem to work. The set up and introduction of Wonderland and characters is very clear. (You don’t need to have read Carrol’s stories either or even be aware of them! Which is a good sign of any novel using another as its base) The story has taken on its own life driven by the goals of the characters and it’s very easy to become lost in the world of Wonderland. So, there is a lot more going for this novel then just the Alice connection.
The other reason why I struggled to get into it, has to do with the way the narrative is written. Granted, most of the novels I read are aimed at adults, with the vocabulary to suit and unless I’m looking back on classics from my childhood, I don’t really pick up children or teenage literature. (Maybe, I should start to though as there are good stories aimed at the under 16’s out there). I thought from reading the forward, that this novel would be aimed at an only adult audience, but it’s actually aimed at teenagers whilst including adults. This really does show in the way it’s written because, there is a simplified feel to the tone of the vocabulary. The other problem I had with this is the Carrol-isms that appear. I understand that Beddor wanted to connect with Carrol’s writing. It does work because of the setting and it is the narrative voice’s language. However, in places I didn’t think it was necessary and it stalled the flow of the narrative because it wasn’t a constant feature in the vocabulary. Prepares, that’s just how I feel about it and other people didn’t have a problem with it.
That happens to be my only criticism about this novel, because the rest is great. The story is about Alice Liddell telling Rev. Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carrol) about her true identity as Princess Alyss Heart Of Wonderland. Even though she has told this story to countless others, they’ve not believed her and dismissed her words as make believe. In Dodgson she is led to understand that she has found a believer at last, however and as the prologue tells us, this isn’t the case and Dodgson has written her story completely differently. We then get Alyss’ story, which leads into the plot of the novel. Alyss is celebrating her birthday, which gets interrupted by an attack from her Aunt Redd. Alyss escapes, but ends up in the Pool of Tears portal and arrives in 1800’s England. From there she tries to get back to Wonderland, but as time passes she starts to believe that she made it all up. However, she does make it back to Wonderland with the help of her friends, but it’s no longer the place she left behind. Under her evil aunt everything has changed and Alyss must fight to claim back her Queendom.
At the heart of the novel is the traditional good vs evil theme and this is the main plot. The good side is The White Imagination and the evil side is The Black Imagination. Sub plots and other themes help to make this novel stand out. One of the sub-plots is having a self-believe in the power of your imagination. This is the key to Alyss succeeding her goals in the novel and she is often questioning this power. The theme loyalty is an underlying presence throughout, because Alyss’ followers try to stay true to her and keep the belief in White Imagination. War is a strong theme in the novel, because it grips Wonderland hard and brings a lot of unrest. Family and friends is an important theme, because most of the characters loss family and friends during the first half of the book and then forge new ones in the second half.
I really enjoyed the story because it was a mix of reality and fantasy. Like Alyss, I was left question what was real and what wasn’t. The narrative is split between Alyss and her friends points of views. This means that when Alyss returns to Wonderland, the reader already knows what has happened and this makes the switch back more easy. The narrative also has a good pace to it and I really liked the fighting scenes, which do appear often and are well written. There is also enough detailed description for elements to be pictured easily, but it still allows use of your imagination. I also found some lines very quotable and they stuck in my head, such as this one;
‘It’s unconscious. To will something into being, the willing of it must be so deep down that no self-doubt is possible. The imaginative power itself must be given, a thing already proven that cannot be disbelieved.’2
The characters are very different, if not completely, from Carrol’s story. Alyss does start off as a seven year old girl and she then grows into a young woman throughout the book. She is a strong willed character, who wants to do the right thing and stand up for her beliefs. She works well as the heroine, because she has to discover her true identity and embrace it. That’s something readers can connect with. I hope in the next book she does a little more fighting, as I would have liked to have seen her doing that more then taking a back seat or being rescued from it.
Though Carrol hardly appears, I feel that his character was spot on. For some reason, I can just imagine him actually being like that and it was nice for Beddor to deeper the connections too. In a way Carrol is actually the reader of the novel, because Alyss is the narrative voice which tells him the story. It also shows the nature of writers and how they change and adopt things to suit their needs!
Dodge is Alyss friend and also love interest. I liked his character because after the major turning point in the story, he dramatic changes and this feels very realist. He becomes fixated on revenge and very little else. It might show that he is one track minded, but for the nature of his character this works. He’s also more stable then Alyss as he trusts in himself to reach his goals, whilst she is often doubting her abilities.
The Mad Hatter has always been my favourite character and then tea party scene is my favourite part of the book. Beddor has given the Mad Hatter and the March Hare very important roles as the Hatter is in charge of royal security as it were and the Hare is Alyss’ tutor and explain-er for the readers. Hatter reminds me of a steampunk styled character has he is full of hidden weapons. Hare does come off a bit boring, but his role as a tutor suits this. These characters are good supporting ones and help to move the plot along.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Looking Glass Wars as it wasn’t what I expected. It felt like a refreshing read, even though in some ways it was re-telling the good vs evil story. The plot of the story is really good and it does allow readers to question the power of their imaginations. The characters are well written and I enjoyed their development. I’m so looking forward to reading the next two!
1. Beddor Frank, The Looking Glass Wars (London, Egmont Books, 2005) pg. 0
2. As Above. pg. 274