The Looking Glass Wars – Frank Beddor

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Alyss Heart is a feisty, pampered, imaginative seven-year-old princess in Wonderland and it’s her birthday. The entire queendom clamors at her feet, with endless displays of the wonders of White Imagination, crystal technology and All Good Things that leave the restless little girl slightly bored. Soon enough she slips away to get into some mischief with her soulmate-playmate Dodge, the son of a distinguished guardsman knighted by Alyss’s mother, Queen Genevieve herself.

Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars is the first volume of a trilogy that re-imagines Lewis Carroll’s epic tales. No White Rabbit in this story but there is a Mad Hatter of sorts, and a Red Queen and a really awful Cat, not Cheshire. Beddor takes the richest of material and imbues it with the threat of deadly jabberwocks, stoned caterpillars and so many mirrors that we see reflections of reflections, each with its own distorted image.  

The royal birthday festivities are fatally interrupted when Genevieve’s elder sister Redd and her lethal minions arrive. Redd’s favorite cry is “Off with their heads!” and she proceeds to do just that, reclaiming Wonderland for herself and laying waste to the Heart Palace and everyone in it. Alyss escapes through a looking glass with her bodyguard, the knife-slashing, blade-wielding Hatter Madigan. They jump in the Pool of Tears where Alyss loses her grip on Hatter and emerges in a puddle in London while he pops out in Paris. Back home in Wonderland, blood flows crimson over the land and a reign of horror begins.

Alyss soon finds that her insistence on the reality of Wonderland and her own royal birthright is a source of mockery and danger. She takes up with a Dickensian band of street urchins, is hauled off to an orphanage, adopted by an Oxford cleric and moves to a rambling house in the countryside that abuts the property of the Reverend Charles Dodgson. Alyss Heart becomes Alice Liddell, a beautiful but troublesome child exploding with imagination, impossible tales and far too much attitude for her own good. Dodgson is charmed by her, coaxes her fairytale autobiography from her and turns it into an epic fantasy for publication, the ultimate betrayal.

The princess thinks she has found her amanuensis, a willing scribe for her true tale and identity, someone whose work will validate her wild claims. Instead she hands her life to that ultimate predator, the writer, who twists and reshapes it into a fiction of his own design and plunges her into an identity crisis and the depths of despair.

Beddor has a lot of fun with his source material and uses it to construct a breathless read through fantasy, magic, epic battles, evil doings, love, loss, courageous deeds, and adventures that test the adults and mature the children. The Looking Glass Wars is thoroughly enjoyable—a tale for tweens, teens and adults who have no trouble believing, as the White Queen does, “as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

The Looking Glass Wars    Frank Beddor   Penguin Group   2006

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