The Looking Glass Wars (The Looking Glass Wars #1)

From Goodreads:

The Looking Glass Wars (The Looking Glass Wars, #1)When Alyss Heart, heir to the Wonderland throne, must flee through the Pool of Tears to escape the murderous aunt Redd, she finds herself lost and alone in Victorian London. Befriended by an aspiring author named Lewis Carrol, Alyss tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Alyss trusts this author to tell the truth so that someone, somewhere will find her and bring her home. But he gets the story all wrong. He even spells her name incorrectly!
Fortunately, Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan knows all too well the awful truth of Alyss’ story and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may eventually battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.
The Looking Glass Wars unabashedly challenges our Wonderland assumptions surrounding mad tea parties, grinning Cheshire cats, and a curious little blond girl to reveal an epic battle in the endless war for Imagination

I’m always looking for ways to shake up my workday and garner some more book time so audiobooks seemed like a good way to go. Looking Glass Wars had been on my to-read list forever and the audio version was conveniently available.

What I Liked

Good Audio Format

Though his individual character voices aren’t as detailed as some other narrators, Gerard Boyle is pretty effective and keeps the story moving along. His Alyss sounds a tad too breathy and trebly for my tastes but it wasn’t a huge annoyance. The audiobook also surprisingly incorporates non-narrator sound effects. The effects are virtually seamless and really help convey the characterization and effects Beddor intended. Minus some really dramatic and hilarious music used to bookend the story, this audio edition hit the mark.

Dark Tone

If you need to know one thing about this book, it’s this: this is NOT Carroll’s kiddie Wonderland.

While not viscerally violent like The Hunger Games or Divergent trilogies, bloodshed runs through much of the book. Stabbings and beheadings begin early on and carry through to about the middle of the story. Alyss’s journey takes some rough and dark turns and I wouldn’t recommend this to younger readers or those looking a gentle, less-physical version of Wonderland.

That being said, Looking Glass Wars finely alternates in tone between moments of utter hopelessness to episodes of smile-inducing glee. Surrounding the warfare and political intrigue of Wonderland, loss, love, identity, revenge, responsibility, and the power of hope and imagination are huge themes. The complex and painful issues faced by Alyss and her friends make her adventure compelling and more than just a stylized adaptation.

Adaptive World Building

Beddor’s world remains original and whimsical while paying homage to its source material. Easy to imagine, Beddor inventively expands and tailors Wonderland to his own story. Elite card soldiers dubbed the Cut, deadly AK52s (a gun firing 52 razor-sharp cards per second) and the Crystal Continuum (a transpo portal between looking glasses), fully steeps the reader in this specific Wonderland. I hate when a book’s world is too stylized and specific for the reader to properly envision and make their own, but Beddor skillfully avoids this trap. A good medium needs to exist between the author’s vision and the reader’s imaginings and LGW definitely finds it.

Fully Fleshed Out Characters

With the possible exceptions of Redd and the Cat, the characters feelings and motivations are tangible and understandable. Alyss starts the story a precocious brat who I didn’t like in the least. After her traumatic escape from Wonderland and emotionally isolation in London, however, I really began to sympathize with her. She gives up her memories of Wonderland and bows to her adopted family’s and society’s demands because it’s easier than and less painful than fighting. But through it all, I rooted for her to keep fighting and find her way to Wonderland.  Alyss’s journey to realize her identity is what makes this a YA book, but it’s her continual fight against self-doubt makes the story relevant to anyone who has difficulty believing in themselves.

Other supporting characters like Hatter Madigan, Bibwhit Harte (the White Rabbit), and General Doppelganger are wonderfully re-imagined. Hatter Madigan is the head of the deadly Millinery, a highly trained cadre of soldiers tasked with guarding the royal family. His devotion to queen and country is matched only by his deadliness with weapons and his bare hands. Hints are dropped about his personal life and I can’t wait to learn more about him.  General Doppleganger was an excellent twist on the Tweedles, a general who can split into two to better command his troops.

Dodge’s character arc especially engrossed me. Even as a 10-year-old boy, Dodge is adorably in love with Alyss. His affection for her carries through to adulthood, though it takes a backseat to his all-consuming lust for revenge. It’s clear he and Alyss still care a great deal for each other but face more pressing goals like staying alive and retaking the queendom.  Like Alyss, Dodge takes a serious level in badass, but his progression and motivation feel far more believable. The loss of everything he’s cared about – his father, Alyss, his ideals and faith in the world – fuels every choice he makes.  He’s also had more time to nurse that pain and harness it into tactical and combat skills. The inner and physical darkness he battles makes him not just a love interest for Alyss but a full character with his own problems and needs.

What I Didn’t Like

Characterization Bumps

Some character aspects just didn’t ring true. Alyss goes from zero to hero a bit too quickly. After returning to Wonderland, she spends her time running from Redd and finding the Maze that will transform her into a fit queen. Her imaginative and combat skills at this point are nonexistent.  But after a relatively short time in the Maze: POOF! She’s a badass and ready to retake her kingdom. Maybe chalk this quick transformation up to her intrinsic queenliness or imagination. Either way, the transition didn’t feel natural so much as tropey and necessary to push the narrative forward

Overall

Wonderful re-imagining of Carroll’s original tale that creates a world and story all its own. Phenomenal mix of world-building, action and budding romance. I’m now scouring my library catalog for the sequels and Hatter’s graphic novel series.

Star rating: 4 out of 5

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