The Looking Glass Wars
by Frank Beddor
Review by Kat Bittner
Dial Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0803731531
Date: 21 September, 2006 List Price $17.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Before Alyss can train to become Queen, her seventh birthday celebration is interrupted by a bloody coup staged her malicious Aunt Redd. As havoc erupts and courtiers fall to Redd's armies, Alyss and her bodyguard Hatter Madigan undertake a desperate escape into the Pool of Tears, from which no one has returned.
The two are catapulted into separate worlds: Alyss, living a Dickensian lifestyle amid orphans and con artists until she is taken in by the prosperous Liddell family; and Hatter Madigan in Paris, his legend growing as he searches the world for the rightful heir to the Heart throne. In spite of the disbelief and humiliation inflicted on her, Alyss clings to her mother's dying words: "Never forget who you are".
What breaks Alyss is when Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) publishes a book—not the truth about her past, as she'd planned, but a "stupid, nonsensical book" that distorts her story into a parody. Devastated without any hope of being taken seriously, Alyss has an existential crisis: how can she believe in something everyone says is a fantasy? Alyss forsakes her faith in Wonderland and shuts away fantasy forever, so that she can live a normal life.
Thirteen years go by. Wonderland is a nightmare, infested by drugs (imagination stimulants), gambling and crime. Queen Redd rules through the power of Black Imagination, which feeds on hate, vengeance, and fear, as well as through the brutality of her mechanical card soldiers. Hers is a reign of madness...and it has brought Wonderland to the verge of destruction.
However, a pack of tenacious renegades still adhere to the Heart dynasty's guiding principles of love, justice, and duty to the people. The rebels include General DoppleGanger (who can split into the duo Generals Dopple and Ganger—which prooves highly useful in battle), Alyss' royal tutor Bibwit Harte (whose name [a clever anagram] and appearance are inspiration for the White Rabbit), and Alyss' childhood friend Dodge Anders, whose father was murdered by The Cat (Redd's top assassin). They do their best to sustain the hope of a Heart restoration, but the numbers and spirits dwindle by the day.
In the end, it is up to Alyss; she must confront her past and claim her destiny. Returned to Wonderland by Dodge and Hatter Madigan at last, she has only one chance to defeat her evil aunt: she must navigate the Looking Glass Maze. Only by surviving its magical traps and puzzles can she regain her long-lost imagination...and become the strongest queen Wonderland has ever known.
Frank Beddor excels in his description of Wonderland and action sequences. Wonderland is portrayed as a fantasy realm akin to Neverland, except that pirates and Indians are replaced by card soldiers and chess pieces. Magical "Imagination" is the weapon of royalty, conjuring up everything from armies to flesh eating roses. Action scenes such as the rebel Alyssians hurtling through the mirror-world Crystal Continuum to Hatter Madigan's escape from Paris are engrossing and fast-paced.
(And for those who want to learn more about the enigmatic bodyguard Hatter Madigan, his global exploits are the subject of the entertaining "Hatter M" comic book published by Image Comics.)
Although based on a children's story, Looking Glass Wars is geared towards young adult readers (it would be rated PG-13), but requires no prior knowledge of Alice in Wonderland. However, for those readers fond of the original, Beddor's re-imagining of this classic may not be as appealing as a delicious "Tarty Tart".