I return to an alternate Oz with Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
From time to time I’ll read stuff that isn’t part of the established “Oz canon”, but is directly inspired by Baum’s Oz works or it takes Oz and re-interprets it in an alternate way. The 1985 movie Return to Oz would be an example of this. Or Gregory Maguire’s Wicked series. Whenever I read this stuff I’ll try to throw a review up to add to my ever growing Oz review archives.
Recently, after watching Return to Oz for the Cult Film Club podcast and reading its novelization, I decided I was ready to try another “alternate Oz” story so I pulled the trigger on a book I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about; Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige.
I wasn’t for sure what to expect from this book when I started to read. Was it a reboot of Wizard of Oz? A sequel? A sidequel? I had no clue. So I loaded it on my iPad and hoped for the best.
It starts off a little slow. Amy lives in Kansas. Her father left her and her mom. The mom has become an addict. Life is not good. And we sort of get beat over the head with this for the first 75-80 pages. Amy’s life sucks. I get it. This early building of character angst for Amy is sort of tiring and why I no longer read as many YA books as I used to. That being said, the fun begins when the freak tornado hits and Amy wakes up in Oz.
What this book turns out to be is a sequel to The Wizard of Oz. I’d like to definitively say it’s a sequel to the book or the movie, but, like Return to Oz, they sort of hedge their bets and use iconography from both. Mainly, of course, it’s the damn slippers. But Paige is a little bit more ambiguous about the slippers. She mentions that Dorothy wore silver slippers, however there are statues in Munchkinland featuring Dorothy in ruby slippers and when we finally meet her, Dorothy is wearing ruby slippers. She never takes them off actually. But it’s honestly a minor thing, there’s a lot more going on than the slippers.
The biggest strength of this book’s story is the world building. The events in this book seem to take place many years after the original Oz book/movie. From context clues in the story it seems like events in the first two Baum Oz books (Wizard of Oz, Marvelous Land of Oz) happen as normal. It’s Dorothy’s return in the third book (Ozma of Oz) that events seem to “take a turn”. Many years before the events in this book, Dorothy returned to Oz from Kansas and Ozma made her a princess. Those events basically happened in the Baum books, but over the years Dorothy sort of becomes obsessed with magic. This obsession changes Dorothy’s behavior. It makes her more erratic. And with this change, her closes friends, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and the Lion sort of change with her. Dorothy supplants Ozma as the ruler of Oz and conscripts Glinda to enslave the Munchkins to start mining Oz for magic. Oz’s magic lies deep within its land so everyone is busy strip mining Oz and hoarding magic for Dorothy. And like I said, Dorothy’s friends sort of follow her lead. Scarecrow becomes obsessed with getting smarter. He starts experimenting on Oz citizens like a mad scientist. Studying their brains and creating weird monster hybrids. The Tin Man is in love with Dorothy and becomes the captain of her guard. The Lion goes savage and starts just indiscriminately eating people and drinking in their fear. It’s a very interesting idea that the gifts bestowed upon Dorothy’s friends (brains, heart, courage) are the very thing that are driving them mad. It can be dark and frightening, but I’m enjoying the world that Paige is building up.
So Amy shows up in the middle of all of this. We slowly learn all the backstory stuff I just talked about. Amy is put in a dungeon by Dorothy but is saved by The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. The Order is a group of the witches of Oz that have banned together to stop Dorothy’s tyrannical rule. They include Gert, the former Good Witch of the North. Glamora, the twin sister of Glinda. And Mombi, the witch that originally secretly held Ozma in captivity from that second Oz book. The Order trains Amy to go undercover in Dorothy’s court in the Emerald City in order to get close to her and hopefully assassinate her and allow Oz to once again be free.
It’s a pretty engrossing story once the book starts to get going after Amy shows up in Oz. There are parallels drawn between Amy and Dorothy in the book. Characters die. You get the sense how dangerous this mission is for Amy because the book makes you believe that not only is Dorothy certifiably insane but her friends will kill her if they discover Amy’s secret. All of that and you get appearances by this version of Oz’s other familiar characters like The Wizard, who has also returned to Oz but may, or may not, be on the side of The Order. Ozma who had something happen to her that has driven her mad. And head housemaid Jellia Jamb who wants nothing more than to please her highness Princess Dorothy.
All of these familiar characters in a different, alternate Oz with an intriguing story really won me over to this book. There are pockets here and there where the YA melodrama sort of snuck in, but it wasn’t overwhelming. The real treat of this book is how the author uses existing Oz characters in different ways. And what character is on what side of this war? It’s made me super curious to check out the second book, The Wicked Will Rise.
Danielle Paige has been busy with this franchise. Not only do you have the (currently) three main books, but she has also written prequel novellas (currently nine of them) to Dorothy Must Die. They sort of fill in the gaps to the history of Oz before Amy shows up. The novellas are available separately or collected in three volumes with three stories each. I actually just last night picked up the collected edition of these first three novellas at the library and am reading it now.