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Book Reviews: Mirror Mirror, The Looking Glass Wars

Today I’m bringing you a double review, two retellings of fairy tales.

The Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor; Young Adult, 400 pages

The Looking Glass Wars is a retelling of Lewis Caroll’s Alice stories, with the premise that Lewis Caroll was inspired by the real Princess Alyss Heart, but got everything wrong, including the spelling of her name. Princess Alyss of Wonderland is celebrating her 7th birthday when her evil Aunt Redd invades Wonderland, murdering Alyss’ parents. Alyss escapes to England, where she is adopted by the Liddell family. As she grows up, her memories of Wonderland begin to fade…but the people of Wonderland haven’t forgotten about her, and need her now more than ever.

Don’t you hate books that have such an awesome premise, but then completely fail in the execution? That’s exactly how I felt after I put this one down. The book started out great, and I was really excited to see how Beddor would reinvent and twist the classic tale. Unfortunately, the book didn’t really go anywhere.

I do have to give Beddor credit for coming at this story from a completely unique direction. The best kind of retelling keeps many elements of the original story (enough to make you excited when you spot them) but changes them enough so that you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Whether you’ve read Lewis Caroll’s stories or just seen Disney ‘s version, you’ll recognize the inspiration behind most of the characters (Hatter Madigan, for example) but will be excited to see how Beddor uses and reinvents them here. All of the characters had a lot of potential, but they were never fully developed. Alyss was likable enough, but even at the end I didn’t know very much about her, or any of the other characters really. This ambiguity made it hard for me to understand where the character’s were coming from.

While I applaud Beddor’s approach, I really feel like he could’ve gone further with it all. I’m trying to avoid the “If I had written this…” trap, but it all felt very cheesy at times, when it didn’t need to be. The book had some great sci-fi elements (particularly with the description of the card soldiers [see the cover above]), and I think the book could’ve been stronger by embracing its science fiction tendencies. Unfortunately, these few elements were bogged down by mind numbingly boring battle sequences and too many “Off with their head”‘s.

The story starts off slow, and it seems like things are going to pick up when Alyss is transported to England, but like all things in the book that were almost great, these scenes are skipped over as the story suddenly leaps ahead in time.

In summary, The Looking Glass Wars was not necessarily bad, but it was slow-moving, boring, and unmemorable, and I will not be reading any more in this series.

Rating:2 / 5

Mirror Mirror, by Gregory Maguire

Mirror Mirror, by Gregory Maguire; Fiction, 304 pages

Mirror Mirror is a retelling of the classic fairy-tale, Snow White. Bianca lives a quiet life with her father, Don Vincente, on their farm in the hills of Tuscany, until the wicked Cesare Borgia and his sister, the vain Lucrezia, arrive. The siblings send Vincente on a seemingly-unachievable quest, leaving Bianca to be “cared for” by Lucrezia. Driven by jealousy, Lucrezia plots Bianca’s demise.

First, a little background on my history with this author: When Wicked, the author’s most popular work to date, was first released, my high school librarian raved about it, and suggested I read it. I couldn’t even make it through the first third of the book (and it’s unusual for me to not finish a book that I’ve started, no matter how much I hate it). I love nothing more than a good retelling of a classic fairy-tale, so I bought Mirror Mirror because of its intriguing premise, and I was hoping it would help me figure out why every one was so crazy for Gregory Maguire.

Unfortunately, it fell completely flat for me. I had to really force myself to finish this one without skimming. The story didn’t go anywhere surprising. The plot was nearly identical to that of the classic story, only differing in the minor details, particularly by casting historical figures as the villains. This led to a lot of uninteresting background that felt more like filler than worthwhile additions to the plot. Unlikable heroes, a very weird portrayal of the seven dwarfs…I could go on and on.

If you’re a fan of Wicked or any of the author’s other works, you might like it. However, if you’ve never read any of Maguire’s works, I suggest you try out Wicked to see if its your cup of tea before moving on to this one.

Rating:1 / 5

If you’ve read either of these books, please let me know what you thought of them!

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