There may be some minor spoilers in this post.
I’m a sucker for stories like this that take classics and make them into a modern, and often darker, version. I usually go more for fairy tale retellings rather than things like this, but when I saw this book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble I couldn’t resist. As you can probably tell from the title, this series is a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, or, well, more of a sequel really. The premise is that after the end of the story that we all know Dorothy finds herself discontent back in her boring old life in Kansas. In some mysterious event as yet unexplained in the book she manages to get back to Oz, and that’s when things go terribly wrong. Dorothy, drunk on magical power and hailed as a hero by the people of Oz, has taken over the magical realm, draining it of all magic for her own personal use and enslaving its people. Interesting premise right? Right.
When constructing the backstory for this book Paige created a lot of compelling material for herself. Unfortunately, as I all to often find in the YA genre, she fails to make full use of it. Amy, Paige’s protagonist, like Dorothy, is a relatively ordinary girl from Kansas, though one with a significant amount of teenage angst built up from her terrible home and school life. Also like Dorothy, she gets swept off to Oz by a tornado. For reasons that still have not been made clear at the end of first book in the series this means that she is the only one who can bring Dorothy down and return Oz to the beautiful and happy place that it was before.
Like I said, pretty good premise, and one that I was excited about, but it didn’t take me too long to realize that it wouldn’t be all I hoped. I felt that the beginning of the novel was rushed, like Paige was trying to get Amy to Oz as fast possible without making sure that the reader got to know Amy and get invested in her struggles before thrusting her into them headfirst. That’s pretty much how I felt throughout the novel. In contrast, however, I also started to feel like Paige was trying way to hard to get me to understand and sympathize with Amy. I completely understand (and enjoy when it’s done well) that angst and self discovery are pretty much staples of the YA genre, but in this novel I never really felt Amy’s struggles and emotional turmoil were real. Her struggle to find her own identity felt forced (and I mean literally, there were literally characters in the novel that were trying to force her to figure out who she was), and I felt like her emotional drama was devalued simply from being harped on too much. Through a large section of the novel, and at various other points throughout, it felt like the plot was being moved along only by her emotional outbursts, and, at the same time, the events of the plot were tailor made to force these emotional outbursts. Like every time the plot was in danger of stalling or getting bogged down something would happen to push Amy over the edge causing her to achieve whatever thing she needed to achieve in order for the story to move on. While the character’s development should absolutely help move and shape the plot and vise versa in this particular novel the two are not working well together.
The thing that bothered me most about the book as a whole is that Amy seems to have that mysterious power that so many protagonists in the past have had, the power of “just knowing.” I can’t tell you how many times the phrase “somehow I just knew” appeared in this novel, mostly because I didn’t count, but it was a lot. Basically it felt like Amy never had to struggle to learn or understand anything, anytime she was confronted with a questionable situation where she might reasonably be uncertain she would “somehow just know” how to interpret such and such, or that such and such person could be trusted, or that this thing or that was the right thing to do. It cheapened her journey and her authenticity as a person. Granted, there are magical powers in Paige’s Oz and possibly this could explain Amy’s sixth sense, but there is never any indication that this is the case.
Okay, so after all that about the bad stuff about this novel you’re probably thinking I didn’t enjoy it. Well, that’s not exactly true. I was disappointed by Dorothy Must Die because I had expected it to amount to much more than it did, but, at the same time, there is a lot about it that was really interesting and that I really enjoyed. For example, the backstory that has brought Oz to this point, as well as the way beloved characters have become twisted into something dark, though still somehow recognizable and believable as themselves, was very well done and one of the best parts of the book. Additionally there were a lot of magical elements in Oz that I found refreshing and unique. I find that I really want to know what exactly brought all of these characters to the point that they’re at, what turned them, in some cases, so evil. And there are characters whose backgrounds and secrets I’m eager to have revealed. By the end of the novel I felt like Amy was becoming more complete as a character and I was becoming more invested in her.
I’m impressed by the Oz that Paige created here, and having, I confess, only seen the movie and never read the original, I wonder how much of it’s completely new and how much she drew from the original story. I can’t help but think that maybe there are subtleties in the novel that I am missing because I don’t understand their origins. If nothing else this novel has convinced me to finally read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
I will be continuing with this series. The first book left off with quite a cliff hanger that I’d like to see resolved, and, after finishing the novel, I too am convinced Dorothy really must die. I’ll give this a 3/5 and recommend that you read it if you’re looking for something not great, but fun and delightfully wicked.