This first fantasy book in the "Looking Glass Wars" series by Frank Beddor is published by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Group.
The Looking Glass Wars is written for kids ages 14 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Alyss Heart celebrates her seventh birthday in Wonderland when Redd (the want-to-be Queen of Hearts and Alyss' aunt) shouts, "Off with their heads," and murders her sister (Alyss' mother). Alyss escapes her aunt through a looking glass mirror and ends up in 1859 England. The Rev. Mrs. Liddell adopt her but they don't believe she is a princess. The Rev. Dodgson (a character representing Lewis Carroll, whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) listens to her tale and turns her story into a nonsensical children's book, Alice in Wonderland. Years later as Alyss is about to wed Leopold, the prince of England, Redd's henchmen attack. Before they can kill her, Dodge Anders, a childhood friend, helps her return to Wonderland. Alyss joins the fight against Redd, along with Hatter Madigan, General Doppelganger, Bibwit Harte and others. She defeats Redd and becomes the new Queen of Hearts.
The marriage ceremony between Alyss and Prince Leopold takes place in a church, and their marriage vows are performed with reverence. The Rev. Liddell (her adopted father and the dean of Christ Church College) and the Rev. Dodgson (the author of Alice in Wonderland) are cited as two of the main factors that cause Alyss to almost lose her imagination completely.
Alyss' mother, Queen Genevieve, sacrifices her life to save her daughter. Redd, Alyss' aunt, tries to kill Alyss, and Redd kills Alyss' parents. The Rev. and Mrs. Liddell adopt Alyss in England, and they punish Alyss for having an imagination. Bibwit Harte (representing the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland), a 7-foot albino man with blue-green veins, teaches the girls in the Heart dynasty how to discipline their imagination. He remains true to the Heart dynasty on the inside, but on the outside, he serves both Queen Genevieve and Redd. Miss Prickett, a governess for the Liddell children, scolds Alyss for spelling her name different than Alice. As a teacher, she forces Alyss to conform. Hatter Madigan (mimicking the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland) is actually a leader of Alyss' elite security force, known as the Millinery. He searches for Alyss for 12 years without concern for his personal life or safety. Soldiers in England mock Alyss. An English boy named Quigly takes pity on her and introduces her to his group of street kids. When the police catch her stealing, Quigly deserts her. The Rev. Charles Dodgson transforms Alyss' memories into a nonsensical children's book, Alice in Wonderland. Alyss feels he has betrayed her more than anyone, which seems excessive since Redd used her assassin, The Cat, to trick Alyss. That trickery led to the death of Alyss' mother and the loss of the kingdom.
Wonderland's source of power is an enormous Heart Crystal. Once something passes into the crystal, the item flows through the imaginations of people in other worlds. When the story opens, Alyss' imagination is the most powerful of any 7-year-old. Alyss belongs to the Heart dynasty, which is guided by their duty toward their subjects, justice and love, but each Heart must choose to use his or her imagination for good or evil. The peace and harmony of Wonderland is derived from White Imagination. Her aunt, Redd, has an undisciplined imagination known as Black Imagination. When Alyss returns to Wonderland as a young woman and goes through the looking glass maze, she attains full power and control of her imagination. The caterpillars, that constantly smoke an opium-like substance, are seen as the wisest of all creatures, the oracles. They give people strange visions of what is to come. There is also a slight mention of the importance of women and the prejudices of men who don't feel women can be leaders. The central characters — Redd and Alyss — are women. Their second-in-commands are men (or partially men, since The Cat is part man and part feline). In the end, the hope and future of Wonderland rests on Alyss and her White Imagination.
Queen Genevieve and King Nolan are brutally murdered. Other characters are suffocated, cut and tortured by Redd and her forces, which includes The Cat, who is her assassin, playing cards that unfold into soldiers, banshees that scream in pain and are called Seekers, the Glass Eye and an organization called The Cut. Redd has a labor camp, Blaxik, which consists of unventilated factories where people work for 17 hours a day and are fed infla-rice and water. At 14, Dodge Anders makes a name for himself by fighting Redd's forces. He wants to avenge his father's brutal death and assassinate The Cat. The book has plenty of slashing swords, agonizing moans, bloody stabs and explosions. People die or are injured by sabers, claws, spinning knives, steel-tipped cones, white bolts of energy, choking, spears, a jaberwock tooth, black rose thorns, flesh-eating roses, orb generators, S-shaped blades that spin toward the enemy and other weapons.
In an opening scene, Dodge and Alyss are dancing. Dodge's feelings are described in detail through his heightened senses—the sweetness of her hair, how she smells, her breath, how he likes being close to her and his desire to continue holding her. The physical reaction seems too sophisticated for a 10-year-old dancing with a 7-year-old. Wonderland has a class system where a princess may only marry into a suit family — a Heart, Club, Diamond or Spade family — which means that Dodge can never marry Alyss.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
Note: Aspects of the book were first published as a graphic novel and comic, which was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2007.
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