I’m going back on forth on whether this is a two star or three star books. We’ll say two and a half and round up (I rounded down on Goodreads, cause I’m mean) It’s fine, I liked it better then Wicked, but there are a lot of problems and it’s mostly just meh. Except it’s also Oz, and guys, I love Oz.
Let’s start with Oz; I’ve been in love with the Oz books for as long as I’ve been reading. I’ve only read the Baum books, though at some point I suppose I should track down the others, and I still enjoy reading them, ok I enjoy re-reading the first five or six. They decline in quality pretty quickly after that, though there is a part of me that is highly amused as Baum tries ever more desperately to get his readers to stop asking him to write about Oz. The Wizard of Oz, much like older fairytales, has very much reached iconic status and so is ripe for retellings (much like older fairy tales, there’s even a movie version that everyone takes as absolute cannon and favors it over the older story). Dorothy Must Die is a decent retelling of the story, as both the story of a girl ripped from her home by a tornado and a re-examination of the beloved characters from The Wizard of Oz. Further, Paige blends the movie and book together in interesting ways using the iconic imagery from the movie when it suits her, but also acknowledging the wider world of Oz and its denizens. For example Dorothy’s magic shoes are ruby but the statues around Oz of her arrival have her in silver shoes. It doesn’t always work, but I appreciate that she tried.
The plot of the book starts out very similarly to The Wizard of Oz; Amy Gumm is a poor girl in Kansas who gets transported to a weird place in a tornado. She’s told that she landed in Oz, a place Amy is familiar with from the movie. It’s never 100% clear whether Amy is familiar with the books or just the movie, there are times when I think it’s just the movie but then she does something like mentions knowing who the Shaggy Man is and he’s book only. The Oz that Amy is familiar with doesn’t quite jive with the place that she’s landed, and she learns that is because Dorothy has returned to Oz and become a tyrannical ruler, mining Oz for its magic and destroying that magical country in the process. Amy becomes embroiled in plots to save Oz and decides that well… Dorothy must Die.
I’m always annoyed when a writer decides to enter the Oz universe and hasn’t actually read any of the books. For example, I’m not 100% convinced that Maguire ever read a single Oz book before writing Wicked (I hated Wicked, HATED IT); I could be convinced he read The Wizard of Oz but I’m skeptical. On this count, Paige at least is ahead of the game. She’s very obviously read a number of the books, and name drops like crazy to prove it. Her Oz feels very much like Baum’s Oz seen through a dystopian lenses and I appreciate that. Paige did seem to pick and choose which parts of the books she wanted to keep though. For example, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry don’t seem to be in this Oz but the Flutterbugets, who were introduced in the book where they moved to Oz, do appear. It’s in this picking and choosing where I come to my first quibble with the book. The evil Dorothy doesn’t feel like she’s an extension of Baum’s Dorothy: the characteristics that are exaggerated to make her evil aren’t actually characteristics that Baum gave to Dorothy and so she feels more like a new character rather than a twisted version of the old. To be honest, I love the idea of an evil Dorothy and I think you could absolutely twist her traits into something evil, but I don’t think Paige did it here. She decided the character she wanted to create and ignored the character as presented in Baum’s books. However the twisted Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tin Man are absolutely spot on perfect.
My other major quibble also has to do with Dorothy, or rather the way in which she’s presented in the novel. There is a lot, a LOT, of slut shaming built into the descriptions of Dorothy. Now setting aside the weirdness that the little girl Baum wrote about who is anywhere from 9-11 years old is now being described as a teenager or young adult, that I can move past as it’s mentioned that people in Oz are now aging. No, what bothered me were the constant depictions of Dorothy as slutty and slutty is bad. There are only two characters that are described in ways to highlight their sexuality, a girl from Amy’s home town who bullies her and Dorothy. The parallels between the two are clearly drawn, and they’re both negative. Both girls dress in tight clothing that show boobs and leg, and they’re the only two for whom those body parts are described as being on display. It’s just kind of gross.
I’m not really fond of Amy as a character. She’s fine I suppose but she’s also extremely self-involved. However, she’s a teenager so it also makes sense. Amy ping-pongs from super self-absorbed to doing stupid selfless acts whenever the plot calls for it. I’m very annoyed at how quickly she picks up her new assassin skillset. It’s very of unbelievable the quickness with which she picks up fighting, magic, etiquette, etc. In fact that whole part of the plot was just too fast. I’m supposed to believe that Amy went from no experience in fighting to beating seasoned veterans in a few weeks? Psh, tell me another. There is also a love story plot line in that portion that feels pasted on and I didn’t buy it at all.
Overall, it’s an interesting take on Oz and a not terrible addition to the YA dystopian novels. There are a few books planned in this series, and the plot for those books is telegraphed pretty hard in the last couple of chapters of this one. I’m not really sure I’m interested in ready any more of the books, especially as I’m pretty sure I can see exactly where they’re going and I don’t love the characters enough to follow through on the story, though I may pick up the last one when it comes out for curiosity’s sake.