This is a pretty good premise for a novel. Especially for a fairy tale knock-off aficionado like myself. Admittedly, not the pinnacle of literature but don't start getting all book snobby on me now. I'm allowed my indulgences and I know exactly who among you is reading Flowers in the Attic under the covers with a flashlight late into the night and I'm not afraid to name names. So let's talk about Dorothy.
Danielle Paige's novel Dorothy Must Die - the first in a trilogy - received an enormous amount of press this spring. For those of us who grew up watching The Wizard of Oz once a year on television, Paige's premise of an evil Dorothy was nearly irresistible. So much so that I even purchased the pre-Dororthy Must Die prequel novella No Place Like Oz, the 132 page e-book relating the events that led to Dorothy's conversion to evilness.
Kansas trailer park resident and angst-ridden teen Amy Gumm has pretty miserable life. Her drug-addict mother is pretty much a no-show, her father abandoned them years ago, and high school is downright miserable what with being bullied by a pregnant girl on a daily basis. Small wonder then that Amy isn't opposed to the change in scenery when the obligatory tornado sweeps through her trailer park and whisks her off to Oz.
Amy, being sharp cookie she is purported to be, quickly figures out that the Oz she is familiar with isn't quite the same place she has crashed landed in. Instead, it is a miserable, violent, totalitarian state controlled by the iron fist of Dorothy, who has returned from Kansas and taken over as the supreme ruler of Oz. (See novella No Place Like Oz for this tale. On second thought, don't bother. It can be summed up thus: Dorothy liked the attention she received in Oz. She goes back, teaches herself to use magic, and sucks up all of Oz's goodness and magical properties to keep herself in power. End of story.)
Of course Dorothy isn't the only problem in Oz. The Scarecrow has been busy using his brains to conduct vicious medical experiments on the flying monkeys that make the Nazi's look humane, the Tin Man now commands Dorothy's terrorist army, and the once Cowardly Lion now feeds off of everyone' fear...literally.
All of this should be horrifying. Instead, it comes across as cartoonish. Dorothy's character never evolves deeper than Evil Barbie in Blue Gingham and Ruby Slippers, while her cohorts are constructed of the thinnest possible materials. There is simply zero character development with this portion of the cast.
Characters not from the original Wizard of Oz fare a tad better. Amy and a handful of other characters the author invents for the story at hand have slightly more dimension and heft, almost as if Paige felt braver playing with her own inventions. Unfortunately, no amount of character development was going to save them from the novel's biggest fault: 464 pages of zero plot movement. That's right: nothing, nada, zip. Take a look at this nifty advertisement for the novel:
This mandate doesn't actually come up until 8 PAGES from the end of the book. That's right, it takes 356 pages to get to that point. And while it is understandable that there would be some buildup in the story - given that this is the first book in a proposed trilogy - it really shouldn't take 356 mind numbing pages to get to the crux your entire advertising platform was based upon. Especially when those previous 356 pages are filled with little nuggets like:
"He was beautiful. He was too beautiful. It was the kind of beautiful that can almost seem ugly;
the kind of beautiful you don't want to touch because you're afraid it might burn."
That's about as deep as it gets. Because the rest of the time, despite the fact that she is being recruited to do the seemingly impossible and kill Dorothy, our protagonist Amy is busy observing just how "hot" her love interest, the warlord-y Nox is and that takes up another good 200 pages. Of course he's hot, we all noticed "how good he looked in his training gear". How could he not, what with those "biceps and quads and muscles I didn't know the names of made up his - possibly magically enhanced - form."
Despite these huge criticisms, I'm hesitant to place the blame squarely on Paige's shoulders. The novel is, after all, a Full Fathom Five Production, a company particularly notable for their exploitation of new writing talent and untenable working conditions for authors (see here for further information). She was undoubtedly working to produce this novel under the extreme time constraints for which FFF is known for and with little or no creative control under the management of James Frey.
I am fairly certain this book will find a niche audience, most likely in the specific age bracket (tween) the marketing department should have targeted to begin with. It's unlikely to find a wide following with older teens or adults who tend to require more substance in their reading - even if it is just another trip down the yellow brick road.
Title: Dorothy Must Die
Author: Danielle Paige
Date: April 1, 2014
Pages: 464 (dear god)
Source: Publisher Copy