Have you ever wondered what it’d be like if Wonderland was real? If the story by Lewis Caroll was just a poor retelling of a traumatized princesses’ desperation to hold on to her memories regarding the home she had to flee, and has no idea how to return to? That’s precisely what “The Looking Glass Wars” is all about. Using Caroll’s narration style and twisting his world, Beddor brings to life an alternate telling of “Through the Looking Glass” where Alice is actually Alyss Heart, next in line to the throne, and her aunt Redd (The Red Queen) has been driven mad with lust for power and brutally wrestles control from the young princess. Mad Hatter is not a riddle loving tea addict, but an elite bodyguard for Alyss known as Hatter Madigan. The Cheshire Cat is now a shape shifting assassin known as The Cat, and the magic of Wonderland is based on the powerful imagination of its rulers. It’s really rather clever in terms of retellings with wonderfully dark twists that are perhaps more suitable for older fans of Alice in Wonderland, who aren’t so purist in their love that they won’t mind the liberties Beddor takes.
Even though this is a unique take on a classic, it is probably best enjoyed if you are familiar with “Though the Looking Glass”. For as long as this novel is, Beddor doesn’t spend much time elaborating on the things he doesn’t change from the original inspiration for his novel. So if you don’t remember some of the finer details, elements, or creatures of “Through the Looking Glass” you can kind of guess as at what they are, but it may not be as fun. There are also a lot more character perspectives we get in this novel then the original. Sure, we still get a lot of Alyss, but we also get a fair amount of her friend Dodge, the conniving Jack of Diamonds, the desperation of Hatter Madigan as he tries to find his lost princess, Redd who just really wants to watch the world burn because reasons, and little glimpses here and there of Alyss’s parents and some of the loyalists who fight for the usurped royal family. Which, again, for as long as this book is, also made it feel… short? Like there just wasn’t enough to get me over this hump of truly feeling like I got certain characters. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is incredibly enjoyable and whimsical, and there was a great deal more action in this book then the original—mainly anytime Hatter, The Cat, or Dodge was around, expect some epic fight scenes—but there was just… something always holding me back from loving any character in particular. It’s hard to say if that was because we get so many perspectives, because I did enjoy seeing more of the interworking’s and growth of characters who aren’t Alyss/Alice. More likely it’s because of how much time is spent getting Alyss back to Wonderland and restoring her imagination compared to how long it takes for her to accomplish her goals—hint, its disproportionally one sided.
What you have is a fantastic idea that felt like, at times, the author was leaning too heavily on the source material, or changing the source material in such a way that was either not necessary, or needed other than, well, “just because”. I wanted to see more of Hatter and get a better understanding of the organization he belonged to. I wanted more of the test Alyss has to go through in order to win her kingdom back. I wanted more from Redd beyond just a spurned sister who was evil because she wasn’t the queen. I, oddly enough, really loved The Cat and thought Jack of Diamonds was one of those awesome villains that was neither black nor white. I liked Alyss, but I did like her more as a child as that felt more authentic, and I wanted more of a character arc for Dodge come the conclusion. That’s me wanting a lot from this book, but I did like it! It was creative and vibrant, and the way Beddor employs a similar narrative style to Caroll was, I thought, very well done. The action scenes were a lot of fun, especially when you get an imagination battle going. Because of its dark nature, I don’t really think this is an MG read, maybe an older middle-grader, but certainly YA if they have read “Through the Looking Glass” first. This is, to put it simply, a fun and solid book.
So why isn’t it 5 stars? Yes, there were things I simply wanted more of or thought were missing, but that’s a point of preference and I realize that. But I just simply did not love it the way many thought I would. Which is ok! I wanted to take this time and say that just because a book is good and checks off all your boxes, if there was just SOMETHING about it you did not love but can’t put your finger on, you don’t need to give it all the stars. Books are a matter of taste, preference, and the state of mind you go into reading them, sometimes that isn’t fair to the author but most times it’s simply ok to not love something that didn’t technically have anything wrong with it. This book, for me, didn’t touch me in a way that warranted 5 stars, so it gets 4 because it’s otherwise a very enjoyable read, but there was just something missing for me. Maybe that missing thing is in the next book? Let’s find out
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