Book Review – No Place Like Oz by Danielle Paige

★★★★ 3.5 Stars

Series: Dorothy Must Die
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Retellings
Publication Date: November 12th, 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins

“For everything that’s wonderful, there’s something wicked, too. That’s the price you pay for magic. It’s worth it, I thought. Even here, standing at the mouth of a place that radiated the purest evil I’d ever felt, I knew it would always be worth it. Because without magic, you’re just left with Kansas.”

Dorothy it seems, has become something of an unhinged sociopath…
As of this review, I’ve only seen the film, The Wizard of Oz, and haven’t read any of Baum’s original series. That being said, I’m familiar enough with the story and am always up for a dark take on the classics. I always thought there was something shady about Glinda. Maybe not Dorothy, but Glinda is suspiciously calculating to be the supposed “good” witch. Dorothy Must Die seems to recognize that as well, and runs with it.

I was hesitant about reading the prequel novellas first, because in my experience, young adult writers don’t know how to execute a prequel in a way that doesn’t cause reference vertigo. It’s almost always and very annoyingly I might add, necessary to read the first book to know what the actual hell is going on, and I like that the prequels to this series are both large and developed enough to not need that context. These are full-length novellas, too, rather than a series of disconnected short stories, and that definitely helps.

No Place Like Oz has good writing and is fun. It’s edgy, vicious and strange. And Dorothy, oh, Dorothy is horrible. She’s like Veruca Salt with magic abilities. It’s great. This also reminded me of A.G. Howard’s Splintered in its style, which I am a massive fan of, so that’s a plus. Don’t know how far I’ll continue this series, but I would like to see up to why Dorothy’s gotta die, at least.

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Book Review – Poor Unfortunate Soul by Serena Valentino

★★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Dark Fantasy / Retelling
Series: Disney Villains
Publication Date: July 26th, 2016
Publisher: Disney Press

“Hate. Her magic was infused with it. And in that hate was a deep, penetrating sorrow. Those humans had taken from her the only person who had loved her, and she was going to make them suffer.”

The sea is a veritable breeding ground for tragedy, and this particular tragedy is a soft reimagining of The Little Mermaid from the villain, Ursula’s, point of view. Well, partly from Ursula’s point of view. Poor Unfortunate Soul tweaks the tale just enough, keeping most of the original story intact while dwelling on the behind-the-scenes schemes that led to its events.

I honestly had no idea that this was the third book in a series. I didn’t think they were connected other than being about Disney villains, but apparently there are some characters exclusive to the retellings that intertwine them all. At least, I think they’re exclusive – I’m not exactly a professional Disneyologist. I know several of the movies fairly well but there’s also several that I’m not familiar with at all, so I have no idea. My mistake there.
I don’t think you’ll have a problem getting the gist of what’s going on… but you might be disappointed that Ursula herself isn’t a bigger figure in the plot.

I know, right? The main focus is on a trio of witches and a Princess Tulip who apparently owes Ursula some sort of favour. They do give the boisterous siren some interesting backstory that opens with a visceral massacre of the humans who wronged her, her magic mutating them horrifically into soulless sirens. That’s a little… grimmer than the cartoon, I have to say.
Wonder if that’s a nod back to The Little Mermaid’s Andersen roots.

Anyway, I do like the witch sisters a lot, and their incorporation into the story was smoothly executed. Poor Unfortunate Soul also allows for a strange grey morality to seep into a story that had a much clearer distinction between good and evil in the original. Triton comes across as much more bigoted, and Ursula has moments that suggest maybe she’s just unlucky. As it turns out, you can be both unfortunate and evil, without those traits tying into each other.
I liked this take on the story – it’s an interesting short read and I’ve never seen another book use the term ‘Ophelian’, but there’s really no other fairytale more perfect for that description than The Little Mermaid.

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Book Review – Zerostrata by Andersen Prunty

★★★★★ 5 Stars

Genre: Bizarro / Fantasy
Publication Date: September 3rd, 2008
Publisher: Eraserhead Press

“That wasn’t what I wanted. That wasn’t what I wanted at all. I didn’t want to be a kid again. I just wanted to be in Zerostrata. I just wanted to look out over things, from that height, with virtually nothing holding me back from the world around me.”

Zerostrata is a story of innocent wonder, things falling apart and being mended. This is the kind of book that cuddles up to your heart and brain and presses out all the decay and sadness, if just for a precious while. It’s the strangest of soul-searching adventures.

The magnificent “Zerostrata” is only a treehouse, precariously perched in the tallest tree in town, in the yard of Hansel Nothing’s childhood home. It’s a moldy old deathtrap, but it’s Hansel’s favourite moldy old deathtrap, and when he returns to his mother’s strange, sad house from the mystery of the abyss and sees that things are in the same shambles they always were, Hansel turns to Zerostrata for comfort. One night in Zerostrata, he looks through the window onto the flesh of the world below and sees a girl running naked on the street – her name is Gretel.

I suppose you’d think this makes it a retelling, wouldn’t you? But I don’t exactly know what to call this book. Zerostrata can’t be bothered trying to squeeze into labels, it just is what it is and it’s beautiful. It’s a little living melancholy wearing a fairytale mask, but there’s a bittersweet realism about the characters even when they’re climbing to the moon and warping reality. Continue reading “Book Review – Zerostrata by Andersen Prunty”

Book Review – Pan by K. R. Thompson

★★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Untold Stories of Neverland
Publication Date: August 10th, 2015
Publisher: Independent

I sped through Pan in a midnight’s blink. Precious, dreamy, and fun enough to be addictive, but it’s over ridiculously soon. It leaves so much desire for full bloom, like a rose you know could be dazzlingly beautiful, but stops budding halfway through. It’s frustrating.

Pan is actually the second novella in the series after Hook, which I didn’t realize before it was too late, but it still made sense within its own sphere so I suppose it doesn’t hurt to read the first two out of order.
Thompson is a really promising indie writer, and I appreciate the sinister touches that edge the sparkle of her reimagining, and this version of Tinkerbell is likeable as a heroine.
There’s always been a devilish chord in the whimsy of Peter Pan to me, or at least I imagine it there, with a strange boy who spirits away other children. The balance of dark and magical, I have a theory is what makes retelling Peter Pan notoriously difficult.

Pan has some issues, it’s a little underdeveloped and brief and Peter’s character goes from awestruck to bully and back without any reason, but especially for an independent fantasy novel, it’s well-written and cute, and worth a look.

Book Review – Child of Nod by C. W. Snyder

★★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Fantasy
Publication Date: November 7th, 2017
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press

Alice in Wonderland retellings of all varieties ignite some freakish literary mines inside of my brain, forcing them out of dormancy – I love these retellings intensely as a sub-genre, so naturally it would be impossible for me to dislike Child of Nod.

Child of Nod is an alternate-Alice of sorts that delights in tarts of blood and flesh rather than cherries and jam. Nod’s capacity for imagination is titanic, interweaving reanimated death, the capricious gore-lust of fairytales, ancient mythological themes and even a pinch of survival horror in a wicked brew of creative magic.

Neither the writing nor characterization falters, yet some oddness about the pacing doesn’t do it justice – it doesn’t quite engross you fully into its deadly frameworks. Not quite. However, its ambition and sheer quantity of style makes it worth a read or two, as it’s unique from other Grimm-Alice remixes in look and substance.

Writing – 4.5/5
Plot + Pacing – 3.5/5
Characterization – 4/5
General – 3.5 rounded to 4/5

[I received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]