Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Dorothy Must Die, by Danielle Paige

Amy Gumm, high school student and Kansas trailer park resident endures her unremarkable life with a sort of grim defeat. Her pink hair and slightly sullen attitude has not won her any admirers, her mother is permanently in a semi-comatose state of pill and alcohol dependency and she resignedly lets the school's dim heart throb copy her homework, knowing already that he's blown his chance of a sports scholarship. And she's just been suspended from school for picking a fight with a pregnant girl despite not actually hitting her. Things are looking bad and they only get worse- that night a tornado sweeps through the park whirling Amy, Amy's mum's pet rat Star and their trailer home away- away to Oz.

Kansas girl swept away to a strange and magical land called Oz. Pretty familiar, right? Amy thinks so too, only this isn't the Oz that she remembers reading about. Its magical inhabitants live in constant, intense fear, petrified of the insane wrath of their leader, the maniacal Dorothy. The magic is gone, mined by hoards of slaves on the princess' orders and forbidden to everyone else. Dorothy rules her kingdom with an iron fist and the help of her devoted followers- the mad scientist Scarecrow, the walking implement of torture and High Inquisitor, the Tin Man, and the ravenous, deadly lion. The rest of the population either cowers in terror or is brainwashed into acceptance, even pleasure, at their good fortune to have such a beautiful, wise and generous ruler. The wicked have turned good and the good are causing a lot of problems.

Being from "The Other Place" too, hopefully therefore able to understand their feared dictator, Amy is Oz's best chance to end Dorothy's reign of terror. Forging an unilluminating allegiance with a mismatched band of Wicked Witches and learning their magic, defence skills and their powers and secrets of concealment, Amy sets out to infiltrate the Emerald City and bring about an end to Dorothy's reign. She must get close to her, learn her ways and her habits but remain undetected- because if the Magic is ever going to be allowed to return to Oz, Dorothy Must Die.

A twisting fantastical story of power and corruption, Dorothy Must Die pits a whole host of new characters against some old and familiar (but not as you remember them) faces. It's definitely an intriguing concept and is bound to appeal to fans of Wicked and Grimm. It's full of nasty surprises, gruesome detail and debunks the idea of the magical Ozian Utopia completely.

I grappled with this book . I was impressed with the story's beginning that saw Amy battling prejudice and bullying at her high school; she came across as a really admirable character, empathetic yet defensive and brave and she was really easy to relate to. However, once she got to Oz, I felt that the plot became a series of perilous events that brought her closer and closer to the Emerald Palace and into the household of Dorothy, without really developing her character much. I couldn't really understand Amy's motivation for most of her behaviour. I found that Amy became very invested in the population and the fate of Oz incredibly quickly, despite her earliest encounters with its populace being quite hostile, but nothing really provided an answer as to why. It wasn't vengeance, nor greed, she had no score to settle. She put up very little fight at the idea of becoming an assassin for a cause she previously had zero knowledge of. As the book went on, Oz Amy was barely recognisable from the endearing high school loser. Maybe it was supposed to be a transformational journey, but I liked her much better in the beginning.

I'm afraid it wasn't just Amy that I struggled to comprehend. Despite never being a huge Dorothy fan myself, I was a little confused by this new version of Dorothy Gale. I just didn't feel that the author utilised much of the original Dorothy's character in creating the power-crazed version. A version based on an exaggerated aspect of herself might have worked, but Dorothy seemed to have had an entire personality/interest/memory transplant. Why did she suddenly become so power hungry? How did she manage to seize control of Oz so effortlessly? Some of the best supervillains have always had the source of their hunger for power rooted in loss, seeking to redress unbalance, righting imagined wrongs or in some other quality that would usually be an asset but in excess is dangerous...I just didn't think evil Dorothy worked as a character, and without that buy in, the whole book kind of  falls down.

I really liked the idea of the decrepit, mouldering Oz, starved of the Magic that keeps it alive, but once Amy enters the Emerald Palace, then the Oz setting becomes forgotten. The surreal landscape is brilliantly described to begin with, but then even that fizzles out towards the middle of the book, replaced with the luxury of the palace. The concept sounds so brilliant and I was really looking forward to reading this,  but I was ultimately disappointed with this novel's plotting and characters. As this is the beginning of a series, there's still hope! I'd love to see Amy reconcile her real and Oz selves a little more- to use her upbringing and the injustices and neglect that she's suffered to fuel her mission in Oz. I'd like her to gather her own parallel band of followers, rather than seeing her raving about how few people she can trust and about how uninformed she is. I'd like to see her out and about in Oz a little more, bringing uncharted Ozlands to the reader and gathering her own indigenous army. I want the Wizard to turn out to be either insanely important or woefully unimportant and I want Oz to fight back. There's hope and resilience in its population that is just waiting to be tapped into further down the narrative line. As a concept, it's got huge potential, and I'd certainly be interested in reading further installments to see if any of the aspects that frustrated me during the first book were worked out.

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