While I was on a Wizard of Oz kick the last few weeks, I noticed a number of emails in my inbox that were promoting the first book of a YA trilogy entitled Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. I took it as a sign and went ahead, making sure to read the novella prelude, No Place Like Oz first.
In No Place Like Oz, Dorothy realizes that the Kansas she wanted so bad to return to doesn’t hold a candle to Oz. She gets a mysterious pair of red shoes that grant her wish and return her to Oz (with a few unexpected tag-alongs). But things in Oz aren’t quite the way she left them and it begins to bother Dorothy to the point where she decides to do something about it, simply because she wants to and can.
Dorothy Must Die is the tale of Amy Gumm. Another girl from Kansas who gets swept away by a tornado and lands in Oz, that’s where her similarities to Dorothy end. The Oz she lands in can look more like dreary Kansas than Kansas sometimes. It doesn’t take long for Amy to learn that Dorothy has become a fearsome, greedy, magic-hungry dictator and that she and her regime are slowly destroying Oz. Circumstances put Amy at the forefront of a war in which her mission is to kill Dorothy and save Oz.
After reading the novella, I almost abandoned my plans to read this series. I chalked it up to the fact that in this version, Dorothy is the villain and since the novella is told from her perspective; as a reader, you’re not supposed to like Dorothy. As I read Dorothy Must Die, I found that it wasn’t necessarily the character but the writing itself that was bothering me. About halfway through the novel, it didn’t bother me as much. I’m not sure whether that was because the story finally got to the point where it was actually engaging or if I’d just gotten used to a style I found grating.
I think part of it is that it finally felt like Paige got a handle on her heroine, Amy Gumm. It took a while for the character’s psychology to feel like it was fitting with her words and actions. There was too much telling and not enough showing in the beginning but eventually the showing took over and the character became more likeable, more believable, more engaging. As for the supporting characters, most of them still have a ways to go. Some of this might be because of the limitations of first person narratives (I understand why it’s become the accepted standard of young adult fiction but I don’t know that I’ll ever agree with the approach or that it will ever stop bothering me).
Perhaps the biggest disappointment I felt with this book was tied to the way it was marketed. The teaser for the book isn’t really for the book; it’s for the trilogy as a whole. The aspects mentioned as far as just what it will take to defeat Dorothy are outlined and that’s part of what made me want to read the series in the first place. But in the book, she doesn’t actually learn those details until the very end (literally, the last few pages). It meant that my expectations for this first installment were so far from being met, I don’t know that I’ll continue when the next book is released. I simply don’t care about the characters enough and am no longer certain the premise alone is enough to sustain my interest until the next installment.
What really bothers me is that I can’t explain what it is about the writing style that grated on me so much. It wasn’t poorly written from a technical perspective and usually I enjoy characters that rely on sarcasm, snark, and wit as a key part of their repertoire. It isn’t as though I have to relate to or identify with the central character in a novel; as long as there’s a fantastic supporting character, I can thoroughly enjoy a novel while merely tolerating an annoying or unsatisfactory protagonist. But I couldn’t get on board with any of them. Maybe I’ve just been reading too much YA and need to take a break from it for a while.