Saturday, January 29, 2011

Audio Book Review: The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, read by Gerard Doyle

Posted by Simcha 3:56 PM, under | 4 comments

Alice in Wonderland is not my favorite book and so it’s unlikely that I would have picked up The Looking Glass Wars if it hadn’t been featured on my library’s digital book homepage, and if I wasn’t in a hurry. But I needed to quickly choose and download an audio book and The Looking Glass Wars was there, so I decided to chance it. And boy am I glad that I did because this book was really fantastic.

The looking Glass Wars is an alternate version of Alice in Wonderland in which Alice (which she spells Alyss), the princess of Wonderland, is forced to leave her kingdom and escape to our world after the Redd Queen conquers Wonderland and destroys the royal family.

The story opens up with young Alyss being presented with the recently written Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by her friend Reverend Charles Dodgeson. Dodgeson had been inspired to write it after listening to Alyss’s imaginative stories about Wonderland and its fantastic creatures, promising that the story would be both of theirs. But after glancing through the book Alyss becomes furious at Dodgeson and his ridiculous story, which is nothing at all like what she had told him, and swears to never speak to him again, before running away.

The story then jumps back several years to the kingdom of Wonderland where Alyss’s seventh birthday is being celebrated in a grand fashion. There is dancing and feasting and a special parade, all in Alice’s honor. And Alice herself is at the center of it all, basking in the adoration of the Wonderlanders. With her strong imagination Alice will someday be the most powerful queen Wonderland has ever seen, though that day still seems far away. In the meantime, Alice’s imagination is most often put to use in mischievous but harmless pranks, much to her mother’s disapproval.

But the birthday celebration comes to an abrupt halt when the Redd Queen and her army break into the palace, slaughtering everyone in their path. With a last look at her mother, Alyss is spirited away by Hatter Madigan, her mother’s bodyguard, before the Red Queen can take notice of her.

With nowhere safe to hide in Wonderland, Alyss and Hatter jump into the Pool of Tears, a magical portal. Alyss emerges from a puddle in 18th century London, all alone. Heartbroken and confused,
Alyss struggles to survive in this foreign world where her tales of Wonderland the magical power of Imagination only lead to ridicule. And so Alyss slowly turns her back on her past, almost convinced that she had imagined it all.

As Alyss becomes integrated in her new world, Wonderland falls under the crushing heel of the Redd Queen and her followers, and all supporters of the Heart family are destroyed. Black Imagination takes over and the land becomes a place of suffering and pain. Everyone believes Princess Alyss to have been murdered, all but Hatter Madigan who had lost the princess in the Pool of Tears and won’t rest until he finds her. Even if it means searching every corner of the globe for the rest of his life.

As I said, this was a fantastic book. The story was creative and fully engaging with wonderfully rich characters that really came alive for me. Many of the central characters in The Looking Glass Wars are based on characters from the original Alice in Wonderland. Instead of a white rabbit there is Bibwit Hare, Alice’s tutor. The Mad Hatter appears in the form of the sober but deadly bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, whose top hat turns into a dangerous weapon. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are converted into General Doppelganger, the commander of the royal army who can split into two characters, Dopel and Ganger. And the cat is no smiling Cheshire but an assassin of the Red Queen who can trick his enemies by taking the form of a sweet cat.

There are also several wholly original characters, such as Dodge Anders, Alyss’s best friend from childhood who becomes hardened after seeing his father murdered by the Red Queen’s assassin.

Beddor even includes some factual characters and events in the book as well, such as Charles Dodgeson, aka Lewis Carroll, and his book Alice and Wonderland, as well as some events from the real life of Alice Liddell.

I really enjoyed the magical aspects of Wonderland, such as such as the way citizens could from one place to another by using mirrors or how magic could be performed with the use of imagination. Though Beddor doesn't explain if non-royal citizens with imagination are also able to perform magic, which does disappoint me a bit.

I listened to the audio version of Through the Looking Glass, read by Gerard Doyle, who does an excellent job. From the very beginning, Doyle swept me into the story and then continued to keep me enthralled by the vivid images his voice painted in my head. Somehow Doyle manages to read each character in a different and unique voice so that I was never confused about who the current speaker was. His British accent also imbues certain words with an additional charm, and each time he would say “tarty tart” (a popular Wonderland treat) I would shiver in delight. (Just try saying “tarty tart” with a British accent and you’ll see what I mean. Unless you already have a British accent in which case you probably have no idea what I’m talking about).

I have read some criticisms of Beddor’s writing style, character development, the limited world building and a few other things, but I didn’t notice any of these problems while listening to the book. Perhaps Doyle's manner of reading smoothed out for me any cracks in the story telling, but whatever the case may be, for me it was a fully entertaining experience that left me with no complaints. I loved the story, the characters and the world of Wonderland and I intend to read (or listen to) the sequel as soon as possible.

I do want to mention that while Through the Looking Glass is a young adult book is does get pretty dark in place which might make it an unsuitable book for young readers. I would say it's an appropriate book for older YA readers and adults, but that's just my personal opinion.

If you are looking for a good audio book to listen to than I full-heartedly recommend The Looking Glass Wars, whether you are an Alice in Wonderland fan or not. And if you have never listened to an audio book before, this one will make you a convert.

And even though I didn’t actually read the book I’m still going to go ahead and recommend it because I did enjoy the story so much and can't imagine that it would be any less pleasurable in the written form.


I have heard about this one but that is pretty much it. I had no idea what it was about but now I got interested

I have an ARC of the third book hanging around somewhere but I haven't mangaged to get a copy of the first book yet. I keep meaning too, but never do it. Thanks for the review and the reminder.

I'm so glad to see you enjoyed this book. I'm not a big lover of Alice in Wonderland books. But this series sounds interesting, and different. I haven't picked it up yet, but I do have it on my list to get. :) Thank you!

You should speak to Odie about Alice in Wonderland. She's reading it in French -- not for school, she asked me to order it for her.

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