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Son of a Witch, but better than Wicked?
on 30 November 2006
Elphaba lives! An enigmatic scrawl that is appearing on walls across the Emerald City defies the received wisdom that the Wicked Witch of the West has been vanquished by Dorothy Gale. Certainly across London it would seem that our green-skinned heroine has survived. Her enigmatic smile peers from a thousand poster sites, grinning enigmatically at whatever is whispered from her white-clad friend Glinda. With the success of the musical Wicked it was perhaps inevitable that a follow up book would arrive. But is it any good?
Firstly this is a review for those who enjoyed the first book. If you didn't enjoy Maguire's original subversion of the classic tale of Oz then it is unlikely that this book is going to do much for you. However, if the concept of the retelling of such a familiar tale and the creation of a whole new world of Oz left you wanting more, then this book is no disappointment.
In this book one of the survivors from the incursion into Kimano Ko is Liir. It was never made clear throughout Wicked who this child was. Bullied by his siblings, and clutching desperately to Elphaba despite her indifference he is now left with nothing. As a result this book is the story of him growing up in the face of a harsh and unforgiving post-Wizard Oz.
At first the socialite and philanthropist Glinda has filled the vacuum of power in the Emerald City, and is then succeeded by the Scarecrow before an all powerful Emperor assumes the throne in the name of the Unnamed God. Religion is perverted to serve power, and the whole of Oz faces the forced conversion to the Unitarianism. In the face of this power is there anyone who is willing to take up the Witch's mantle and defend the defenceless of Oz?
The book is considerably tighter than the original, focused solely on Liir, and only dwelling on others as they come into his life. It is surprising - Liir's personal life does not follow the Technicolor simplicity of the original Wizard of Oz series. This is Oz grown up, gritty and real.
As with Wicked the descriptive talent and storytelling mastery of Maguire is apparent. The man can weave a delicious narrative, and produce something that is a gripping, page turning treat. I think the book serves the reader better than its predecessor in filling in many of the gaps left by Wicked. It is a complete story in itself, perfectly intelligible and enjoyable without the background story of Wicked. But read in tandem it produces a powerful follow up, and one which gives firmer foundations for a trilogy or series of books based on this alternate Oz.
Perhaps most importantly for a book that is fantasy and escapism it is a cracking read, vividly painting the darker side to Oz whilst still producing the characters and storylines that are interesting and indulging.