Listening to: the Soundtrack of "Hamilton" on endless repeat
Reading: City of Bones
Drinking: tea, because I can't deal with spring -_-
Since it helped me when I got to blow off steam about the Heroes of Olympus books, I figured I'd do the same to put my thoughts about After Alice to words too.
I'm pretty sure not many people have heard of the book, or its author, which is a shame.
Gregory Maguire is my favorite author, my idol, my inspiration. He's the man I consider the best writer, I adore him and his writing to bits and pieces.
But I generally only get blank stares when I say his name. Sometimes, it helps when I add "He's the author of Wicked. The book behind that broadway musical?", but that kind of really hurts me very deep inside. Let me explain that pain in terms that EVERY Percy Jackson fan will understand.
The Wicked musical has about as much to do with the first book in the Wicked book series as the Lightning Thief movie had to do with the first Percy Jackson book. That is to say; the characters had the same names but neither their casting choices nor their characters and especially not the story had anything to do with each other. Yes, in the broadest sense, as in you can say "Lightning Thief is about the son of Poseidon who has to find the Master Bolt and return it" summarizes both the book and the movie, but literally every plot-point along the way doesn't match up.
The same can be said about Wicked. The musical takes a deep, heart-felt story of the struggles of an outsider from birth to death, that is set in a serious tone and basically depicts the rise against a Nazi regime and the struggle to end a holocaust all of their own, with strong elements of family, friendship and love... and turns it into a fluffy, colorful happy high school teen drama love story that at the sidelines kinda still tries to take down the evil dictator, but the overall focus is on the love story. The love story that should not take over the lead and should have served as a plot-device to strengthen the story.
But that's not here nor there and this isn't supposed to be a critique of the Wicked musical. This just serves to explain my love for the author. I'm a German girl, I got WWII themes coming out of my ears, I take wide steps to avoid anything with the theme because heaven knows I am so tired of it - as a German teenager, you get slapped in the face repeatedly with German Guilt and all the details of WWII in high school. So much so that really, I don't need to sit down and contemplate it in my free time. Yet Gregory Maguire managed to take a plot with the main theme of a Nazi regime and a holocaust and turn it into my favorite book.
Not to mention Son of a Witch, which is the sequel to Wicked and to date the only book that I did not lay down until I had it finished; I literally walked around for 25 hours straight with a book in hand, devouring it and not even tearing my eyes off it during meals because I needed to know how it ended that badly. And I'm the kind of reader who starts a book and then puts it down a couple weeks, reads another few chapters and puts it down for another couple of months, because I'm just a lazy reader.
Now that you might have a grasp on my deep love for Gregory Maguire's writing, let's get to the book at hand. After Alice. As the title already suggests, it's a sequel to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found there. As in; my favorite book-series.
Wonderland is such a beautiful, weird, strange world filled with all of those amazing characters. To me, it's the epitome of fairy tales, one of the last real fairy tales together with Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan.
The reason Gregory Maguire is my favorite author is actually because he does take those twisted fairy tale stories. All his books take some kind of twist on a fairy tale story of sorts and he does it amazing. There is however another thing. The first time I read Maguire in English - I had started reading Wicked during my internship at a bookstore when it had just been released and I had nothing else to do during my breaks than look into the curious book with the green-skinned lady on the cover - I was kind of blown away.
Maguire's style is eerily similar to Carroll's. Weird, twisty, dark but still light enough to give it the fairy tale vibe, funny, thoughtful and fascinating and above all else beautiful.
So when the 150th anniversary of the Alice books rolled around and it was announced that Gregory Maguire was going to publish a third installment of the series in honors, I was... there are no words to express what I was feeling. After all, my favorite book series has been closed for over a hundred years and with the author long gone, no chance of ever turning it into the trilogy I would have loved for it to be. But the one author on the planet who seems to have the same kind of twisted and mesmerizing mind as Lewis Carroll? Oh. Oh, he would do it justice. Oh, this was going to be beautiful.
It was. But it also kind of really wasn't and left me utterly disappointed.
I mean, it's physically impossible for me to hate something Maguire writes and even as it stands, After Alice had fascinating twists and character protrayals, not to mention his capture of Wonderland was perfectly on point.
But it wasn't what I was hoping for and it wasn't what I was expecting.
Now, let me elaborate on what I was hoping for. The thing I had wanted to read ever since I first put Looking-Glass down after I finished reading it. I wanted to read about Alice ruling Wonderland. She became the White Queen in the end and I wanted to see it, a future where she rules Wonderland, perhaps where a new character comes in to go through adventures similar to Alice's just to reveal Alice as the kind White Queen in the end. It was up until nearly the end of After Alice, what I expected to happen, to be honest.
Maguire loves twists at the end. He somehow always manages to pull the rug out from underneath me and I thought this could be it. The whole book avoiding to actually include Alice. Was he going to include her as the Queen then for a big reveal?
What I was innitially expecting before reading it was a twisted story to explain the origins of the Queen or Hearts and the White Queen. In the way the horrid, awful Tim Burton movie did, just you know, in good. A story that takes the Queen of Hearts and reveals her to not be bad. What he did in Wicked with the Wicked Witch of the West. There are just too many parallels here to not be hopeful about such a book, you see.
It was neither. It felt nearly as though Maguire was afraid of the story, to be honest. We had Alice's friend following her into Wonderland and going step by step the same way. Like a lukewarm reheating of the original books, with just enough to tease the reader but not enough to satisfy. Instead of using this opportunity to put more focus on the fascinating characters created by Carroll, he distracted with sub-plots of Alice's sister and her growing affections for a foreigner, an unnecessary debate on Darwin and a former slave boy's perception of London of the day and age.
It felt as though the Wonderland part of the story was the one he was afraid to write and so he stuck to the formular created in the original book, while he went full-blown Maguire on the parts taking place in London but being overall kind of unnecessary and uninteresting to the story.
Ada's character developing as the lead and 'new Alice' was interesting. She developed more strength and self-sense and courage over the book that I found admirable. She was such a different character from Alice and perceiving Wonderland from her eyes was indeed fascinating.
Not to mention, he did have a surprising twist that pleased me in this "Oh well, I really truly did not see this coming, this is amusing" kind of sense that really only Maguire manages.
But overall I can't help but think that an author of Maguire's immense talent, inspiration and mind... he could have done so much better with this wonderful world and those characters. I wish he would have been as daring and mixed the original as much with his own imagination as he did with Oz in the Wicked series.