Saturday, November 26, 2005

Review of Wicked by Gregory Maguire

I've had a busy few days (Thanksgiving, of course, and then yesterday The Wife and I took the Things to see Disney On Ice and today I took them to see The Polar Express in IMAX 3-D - I hope to blog about those things, but not today), so I'm digging into the vaults for this, which was originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written (as part of a longer thread mostly about other things) on 1/31/05:

I thought it was a collection of lovely book-shards that didn't actually become one whole single story. I do disagree that Elphaba "transformed," since she's essentially passive throughout -- things happen to her, rather than because of her, and we see her, until the last section, through other people's eyes.

I was left annoyed at Maguire: if he wanted to radically revision the land of Oz, he needed to pull his focus out from random moments in Elphaba's life and show us the things he wants to imagine. And if he wanted to show Elphaba's journey to "evil," she needed to actually do something other than trying badly to assassinate the same person twice. And the very last lines needed to be prefigured more strongly -- if I'd been his editor, I would have suggested having a "wicked old witch" story at the beginning of each section.

He also needed to decide whether Elphaba actually was "wicked" or not -- either way would be fine, but leaving it in between (in a book with clear examples of actual evil, such as Madame Morrible) was a bad idea. It just makes her weak, when she's already someone we follow for nearly forty years, during which time she manages to accomplish nothing and hardly ever be happy for more than a second -- and we're not even in her head, so it's hard to identify with her to begin with.

And the whole "magical book guarded by an immortal who manipulates the whole plot" was also a bad idea -- it feels like it's lifted right out of a Fantasy Tropes 'R' Us writer's manual. Lots of parts of the book fell like that to me -- a good idea encrusted with layers of misguided frippery.

All in all, it's a typical first novel: energetic and full of ideas, not all of which belonged in the same book with each other. I'm not sorry I read it, but it could have used a lot more authentic Oziana -- maybe Kalidah shock troops as an occupation force in the Dainty China Country. Oh, and the Dragon Clock needed to either show up more often or not at all.

Maybe I'll read Lost some day, but I'm not going to rush out to get it. I wouldn't recommend Wicked to serious Oz fans (they should stay away, actually), but those who have vague memories of the book and/or movie might enjoy it -- particularly if they thought Oz was too twee or silly to begin with.

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