Frank Beddor
MSRP: N/A for America
PAGES: 376

For many writers, there’s an undeniable lure in remaking an existing property. Hollywood falls to the temptation far more often than it should. Writers of fiction are a touch less prone to overzealous reimagining, simply because the market doesn’t support it, but there are a few notable exceptions, such as the moderately successful fairy tales remade by Gregory Maguire. In my grand, critical simplicity, I consider such remakes as falling into two opposing camps: the cheap knockoffs created solely to draw in an existing audience, and the sophisticated attempts to play off of an audience’s existing experience with and assumptions of a particular work. Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars lands itself in the former camp, but with enough positive attributes to slightly, if inconveniently, compromise my critical simplicity.

The conceit of The Looking Glass Wars is uncomplicated: Alice Liddell, to whom the original Alice novels were dedicated, was not a regular girl, from Cheeseton, England; she was, in fact, Alyss Heart, young princess of Wonderland, and victim of the evil Queen Redd. Redd murdered Alyss’ family and displaced the girl, who, through a series of adventures, ended up safely in our world. Our world is full of doubt, and no one would believe poor Alyss’ terrifying history until she met the Reverend Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll). Dodgson took the time to listen to Alyss’ story — trouble is, he got it all wrong. He shut out the naughty bits, the blood and the horror, and came up with a sanitized version of Alyss’ memories. So, Alyss will tell us the real story, the truth of what happened in Wonderland.

It’s an engaging premise which is never adequately realized in the narrative. Creating an unnecessary distance between reader and narrative are Beddor’s weak characterizations. His characters read as if he had rolled them up for a D&D campaign the night before he started drafting, each identifiable by a single distinguishing characteristic. Alyss is a selfish brat, from beginning to end; her primary foe, Queen Redd, is meant to be violently psychotic, but exists in a dramatic vacuum in which her craziness comes off as humorous. In the original Alice novels, the red queen’s madness seemed to infect the world around her, twisting it until logic broke clean; not so, here, where simple violence takes the place of insanity.

Much has been made, in other reviews of the book, of Beddor’s knack and penchant for gory violence. Maybe it’s just because we’re CHUD here, but there’s really nothing all that brutal or shocking for an audience who is familiar with, and who delights in, the films of, say, Takashi Miike. The violence seems gratuitous, not having any true characters to anchor it, and merely exists to distance the book from its children-oriented inspiration.

Beddor’s prose style will be familiar to those who read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code; for those blessed few uninitiated, what that means is that each chapter is somewhere in the vicinity of four or five pages, dispensing plot points one at a time. The plot progresses like a horse marching over caltrops, jerking wildly every time its foot encounters the next point.

What this means is that the book will just flow through your hands; it’s got a nice heft, and a good page count, but the chapters fly right by. It shouldn’t take a reader more than a couple of evenings to get through, and, to be fair, part of that is because there’s a terrific momentum to the plot. That metaphorical horse just wants to charge past the obstacles. The story itself will appeal to those fans of the video game American McGee’s Alice; both are reinventions of the familiar story with similar sensibilities, but neither crosses exact conceptual borders with the other.

The central failure of The Looking Glass Wars is that there is nothing in this Wonderland, aside from vaguely familiar names, that suggests it is in fact Carroll’s Wonderland perverted, or vice-versa. Entering into the fiction for just a moment, I have to note that Beddor’s Wonderland is not nearly so engaging a place to spend time than Carroll’s sanitization of Alyss’ story. The result is an unavoidable aura of simple exploitation that surrounds the book. This is a book about action; action that could have well taken place in a world completely of Beddor’s imagining.

Bottom line: This book is a breeze to get through, and about as memorable.

Judging the Book by its Cover

For the trade paperback edition I received, the publisher seems to be trying to distance the book from its heritage, as the only symbol that reminds a reader of Carroll’s novel is that of the giant mushrooms. A more appropriate visual cue would have been the suits of cards (which are featured on the hardcover release), as much more is made of the card factions in The Looking Glass Wars than in the Alice books. The mushrooms, with all the hallucinations they imply, don’t really fit into Beddor’s Wonderland, where things are much more concrete than fanciful.

But, hey, the ‘shrooms are plenty ethereal and freaky.

6 out of 10