The story behind the story is always an interesting path to take, especially when it’s a beloved classic turned on its head. It’s been done with Cinderella by adding steampunk, Alice in Wonderland by literally driving Alice insane, and Little Red Riding Hood by making Red a werewolf hunting badass. L. Frank Baum’s classic Oz tales are the latest topsy-turvy fairytales with the Dorothy Must Die series taking the classic tales of the land of Oz and turning them into dark, twisted versions of the ones you remember fondly from childhood!
Dorothy Must Die introduces us to a series of books that take the colourful, happy land of Oz and turn it into a totalitarian state of torture, magic abuse, and complete despair. But what happened to this place full of flying monkeys and Munchkins and enchanted trees? Dorothy happened. She found a way back to Oz. Magic corrupted the sweet little farm girl, her three loving Ozian friends, and her little dog too. She seized power and now the Scarecrow is performing ghoulish experiments, the Tin Man is abducting citizens for his Tin Army, and the Cowardly Lion is feasting on the fear he strikes into people’s hearts. Good witches can no longer be trusted and the Wicked might be Oz’s only hope.
Enter the book’s main character: Amy Gumm. Just a trailer trash girl from Kansas brought to Oz in the same way that Dorothy was all those years ago. She joins forces with The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked to save Oz. Her mission? Kill Dorothy. Following Amy and the Order over the course of three books, we’re witness to just how messed up Oz has become. Battles rage, characters throughout the classic series are introduced (and mostly killed off), and we find out just how big of a bitch Glinda is behind the soft curls and pink ball gowns.
The author of the series (Dorothy Must Die, The Wicked Will Rise, Yellow Brick War, and all the novellas in between) is Danielle Paige. She attended Columbia University, writes young adult fiction as well as television and has won a Writers Guild of America Award. She seems to have a soft spot for the horrific: a woman after my own heart!
What drew me to this series is the thought of a f**ked up Oz. Considering one of my favourite video games is American McGee’s Alice (a demented version of Wonderland) there seemed there was no way I wouldn’t like this! Unless the amazing premise was stretched too thin…
I personally don’t think that Dorothy Must Die had to be spread out over three books. Dorothy should have died at the end of book one and books two and three could have centred on different characters (the third book actually seems to be setting up a fourth book that will probably be Glinda centric if I were to have my guess). Books two and three (specifically two) left something lacking. Amy had her ups and downs as the main character but she felt pretty threadbare when the whole thing was over with. It’s really a shame that this strong idea of a dark and twisted Oz was spread so thin and that over the thousand page trilogy, only four hundred or so will shape this strong idea into anything fun read.
Book three (Yellow Brick War) was the worst off. The characters felt hollow despite having two books of lead-up. The plot was oddly paced and just as hollow as the characters. Take for example Amy: we watch her move through her story with a sort of dead-eyed apathy that could have really worked for her character (being a cynical teenager) but not in the way it was presented. Here’s a girl that was taught how to do magic, and then she can’t do magic, and then she can again, but she shouldn’t because it’s bad, but she does anyway, and gee if the boy that taught her magic isn’t hot. There’s the whole book for you. It’s not really that the pacing is happening to slowly or too quickly, there’s just literally not enough in the plot to pace!
My problem with this series is the voice that it’s told in. There needs to be a lot of description with a place like Oz. We do get description but it can only come through Amy’s first person perspective. This is usually what ends up happening with young adult novels: we are told and not shown. Don’t just have Amy’s voice inside her own head saying that she’s crushing on Nox, show us she’s crushing on Nox by how she acts around him. Of course this tell and not show style of writing goes hand in hand with the first person perspective which I’ve always thought is incredibly hard to do well. And while Amy’s teenage voice isn’t as bad as some adult-writers-posing-as-a-teenagers voices are, there’s just something so flat and totalitarian about the way she addresses all her exposition. First person perspective gets us inside one character’s head at the expensive of literally everything else in the story. I want to see what’s happening in this world outside of how Amy sees it. There’s so much more here than she can show us.
The Dorothy Must Die series is by no way the worst young adult books you could pick up. Learning the intrigue surrounding Dorothy and her bloody return to Oz is so interesting and wanting to learn about Glinda’s wicked schemes kept me turning the pages through all three books in the main series and the six novellas that form a sequel to Dorothy’s first Oz but a prequel to her second Oz visit. But it’s honestly not the best young adult books you could read either. The flat characters and rigid inner voice hinder the amazing idea that’s the base of this series.
If only I could knock my heels together and wish the series better because I absolutely love the idea of Dorothy becoming a magic-addled uber-bitch that’s slowly corrupting Oz and simply must die. I’m not so crazy about this one premise being stretched to breaking point over three books and a thousand pages.