What I've been reading
There's a big difference between "good" and "entertaining." The Looking Glass Wars, which is a re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, is not particularly good. It's entertaining, however, and although it could be much better, it's a nice distracting read for a few days. It's a page-turner. That might be damning with faint praise, but that's about all I can say about the book.
"Re-imagining" old stories has been done forever, but it's a kind of a fad these days, and Beddor's story takes on Lewis Carroll's wacky fairy tale. Alice Liddell becomes Alyss Heart, the princess of Wonderland, whose aunt, Redd, kills her parents and takes over the kingdom. Alyss escapes with the help of her personal bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, and together they jump into the Pool of Tears, which is a portal to our world. They're separated in the pool, and Alyss comes out in 1850s England. She falls in with a bunch of homeless kids, and then enters foster care, where she is adopted by the Liddells. She attempts to prove to everyone that she is a princess of Wonderland with the power to create things simply by her Imagination (which takes the place of magic in this book), but as she lives more and more in this world, she gradually loses the ability. The only person she finds who is sympathetic is Charles Dodgson, and friend of her parents', who claims to believe her but then writes her story as a fairy tale, twisting all the "real" things about Wonderland into childish fancies. Alyss decides to forget about Wonderland and accept her lot in this world.
Hatter Madigan, meanwhile, came out of the portal in Paris, and begins searching the world for Alyss. Back in Wonderland, Redd takes over and makes life miserable, of course. Years pass, and Madigan finally picks up the trail when someone points out that his story is remarkably similar to Carroll's book, which has become famous. He re-enters Alyss' life as she's about to be married to Prince Leopold, one of Queen Victoria's son, and he returns to Wonderland to enlist the help of Alyss' childhood friend, Dodge Anders. Anders enters our world and steals Alyss back as the ceremony is about to start. Then she must re-learn how to use her Imagination and defeat Queen Redd.
The final part of the book is taken up with Alyss' struggle to regain the magic she has suppressed for years and seize her birthright as queen, which includes making her way through the Looking Glass Maze and discovering what she needs to become a ruler. This all leads to a final confrontation with Redd, as we knew it would. Everything is resolved pretty much the way we think it will be, including leaving the door open to future volumes, if indeed that's where Beddor is going with this. We'll see.
The biggest problem with The Looking Glass Wars is the fact that it's not particularly good writing. Beddor, it feels like, is in a big hurry to get to the end, and therefore he simply zips from scene to scene, without allowing us to savor the moments. It's fun to read, but it's junk food lit, and although it's not as egregious as the worst John Grisham book, it's kind of on par with The Da Vinci Code, which is a page-turner but not much else. Beddor keeps things hopping, but we don't get much insight even into Alyss' character beyond the surface - she's sad when her parents are killed, she's worried that she won't be able to lead her troops, she's angry at Dodgson for perverting her tale - and therefore, we don't really get close to any of the characters. Whenever Beddor slows down a bit and starts to give the characters some depth, he quickly brings the action back and zips off again. It's a bit disconcerting, because the familiarity of the story, which brings us into the story, works against it somewhat. It's as if Beddor is using the original book to fill in gaps for him, and when the original book doesn't really match this vision, that falls short. This book doesn't match the weirdness of Carroll's original, and it seems Beddor shies away from that, which is a mistake. Whenever he gets into a bit of the weirdness of Wonderland, the book is actually more interesting, but then something explodes and we're off again.
I know that Beddor was writing a simply beach novel, but it feels like there's something more interesting lurking underneath. Re-inventing classic stories isn't the "wow" thing it once was, so something else needs to stand out. This book could have easily been a straight forward fantasy book with no antecedent and it would have worked just as well, or just as poorly, as the case may be. If Beddor is going to use Alice in Wonderland as his template, he needs to delve much further into that book and come up with something unique. It can be done, and others have done it. Beddor takes the easy way out, and the result is entertaining but nothing terribly memorable.
Ironically, Beddor wrote a comic book mini-series that follows Hatter Madigan around in our world just after he loses Alyss. It's not a great series, but it is more interesting than this book, possibly because Beddor spends his time with Madigan and can therefore delve a bit more into his character. Good art by Ben Templesmith doesn't hurt, either. It's a strange contrast to this book, because although it isn't as epic in scope as the book, in it Beddor seems to get that character development as well as action is perfectly all right.
The Looking Glass Wars isn't a very "good" book, but it does what it's supposed to, I guess: tell a decent story with minimal fuss. I read it quickly and painlessly, and was interested in where it was going. Upon reflection, however, it's just something to pass the time. Whether that's something you're looking for is entirely up to you.