Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Latest Oz Reading

I've been somewhat remiss in keeping this blog up to date with my reading, but my non-Oz life has been busy. But now that the holidays are here I have a little breathing room freed up, and can tell you about my two most recent books. And by a wild coincidence, they are very similar in theme and topic and intended audience, for neither can truly be called a children's book, but both deal with the conquest of Oz from within and how new characters from the Great Outside World come to take Oz back.

The first book is Polychrome by Ryk E. Spoor, a book whose publication I actually helped to fund through Kickstarter. Your only options may be paperback or e-book editions, but I got a lovely, sturdy hardcover edition. But it's the story that's most important. (WARNING: There be some mild spoilers ahead!) Ugu the Shoemaker and Mrs. Yoop decide to join forces, break their enchantments, and take over Oz. And they succeed—in just the first prologue! The bulk of the story concerns one average, slightly overweight, slightly older asthmatic computer programmer, Erik Medon, of Albany, New York. It seems one of the few places around Oz that's not afraid to deal with the new rulers is the Cloud Kingdom, where Polychrome and her father receive a prophecy from the Little Pink Bear about Oz's future, and Polly must find its savior in the Outside World. So one trip via rainbow and she's in upstate New York. Erik, being an Oz fan, recognizes her right away, which starts off a whole chain of events that leads to Erik training to become a warrior and single-handedly being responsible for leading the overthrow of Oz. Pretty heady stuff! But Erik proves to be up to the task, and once he is on his own he proves to be a very capable and clever man. Not that his task ends up being at all easy, and he faces many challenges. But he also makes many allies, some quite unexpected, and (no surprise, I'm sure) he wins in the end. But the journey towards that end is fascinating, and very Ozzy while still being very grown up. I don't mean there's a lot of violence or sex or other things you just don't expect to see in an Oz book (although it is a book about war, so there is some violence), I mean Spoor treats his readers like they are adults, and can handle more complex explanations and emotions and things like that. He clearly knows his Oz, too. His treatment of Polychrome is true to her appearances in the Baum books, while at the same time so much richer and deeper than that. Only a handful of more peripheral characters have major parts, but they ring true as well, even if he makes some logical changes, such as Pingaree being more like a Polynesian island whose inhabitants are darker skinned than as Neill portrayed them. Princess Zenga, by the way, may be the best new Oz character Spoor has created, and I hope we see more of her if there are future stories set in this Oz.

The other novel is Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. Unlike Polychrome, this one does not come to a definitive end (although there is a complete narrative here), as this is the first book of a four-book-and-some-extra-novellas series. Amy Gumm is a high school student in Kansas with a pretty dismal life and bleak future. So once a tornado carries her mobile home to Oz, she initially welcomes the change of scenery. She quickly discovers that this isn't the Oz of the movie, however. Over the course of several decades, Dorothy has gradually snuck her way into power and taken over governing Oz until she has become the country,s despotic ruler, and the power has gone straight to her head. The resistance, many of whom were once labeled wicked, recruit Amy to help them out. She learns some basic combat and magic (much like Erik in Polychrome), and is then sent undercover into the emerald palace as a servant. She is only supposed to gather intelligence, but what she finds is so horrifying that she starts to get involved, putting her life and the resistance's plans into jeopardy. Like Polychrome, this is a taut thriller, and like Erik, Amy is an imperfect person who finds herself roped into highly unusual circumstances to save Oz. It's not a version of Oz I'd want to visit, and Dorothy really isn't terribly nice, but I do want to read the rest of the series. To her credit, Paige bases her Oz on the books, although there are enough nods to The Movie to not alienate her readers who only know Oz from that.

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