I grew up with the Oz books. As a child, I would revisit them periodically, curling up under the covers with a flashlight to read about Tik-Tok and the Wheelers, or Polychrome and the Nome King, or Mombi and Jack. Even now, I still occasionally read them because they're so fantastically creative and the imaginative world-building continues to hold up, even now. It's one of my favorite fantasy series ever, probably more so than Harry Potter. That's why I was skeptical when I saw that there was a series coming out that was a dark retelling of the Oz books.
DOROTHY MUST DIE is about a girl named Amy, who lives in a trailer park in Kansas. One day, she ends up being stuck in the middle of a tornado and, like Dorothy, finds herself magically transported to a world that clearly isn't Kansas anymore. It isn't quite Oz, either - at least, not the way that the fans know it. Everything is dark and drained of magic, and under Dorothy's corrupt rule it's turned into a Big Dorothy is Watching dystopia with torture, murder, and brain-washing all being totally commonplace. Welcome to Oz, b*tch.
To Paige's credit, the world-building is quite well done. I felt like the horrors really are that - horrific. The Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow? All spectacles of terror that would be right at home in the jump scare-ridden world of Five Nights at Freddy's. I also liked the backstory about how Dorothy became evil. Power does corrupt and when magic is involved, that seems even more likely. Paige also portrays just how seductive power can be, even when it is evil, because in Dorothy's palace, things are beautiful, and it's all too easy to succumb to temptation.
Amy is one of those heroines I think people will love or hate. She's hilariously dated with her pink hair and emo attitude, like she's trapped in 2006 and nobody's told her that Green Day isn't cool anymore. She's also selfish and b*tchy and mean, with all kinds of snarky asides about pretty much anyone she doesn't like. She's not the villain of the story, though (yet?), and even though she's self-preserving she does risk her own life to save others at several points during the story even though cowardice or fear wins out a few times. I'm a fan of flawed protagonists, so this was refreshing; it's nice when women are allowed to be less than perfect in fiction and still be the heroines.
One thing about this book that I hated, hated is the long boring section where Amy trains with some witches to develop her powers and ends up meeting a boy named Nox. There's this weird sexual tension between them that feels awkward, because it's so forced, and I was annoyed to see bad-ass Amy lose sight of the game to obsess over some boy she doesn't even know. Seriously, at some point they pick up a wounded girl and Amy is jealous that he goes to attend her wounds rather than pay attention to her. Like, seriously, girl? Priorities, much? I'm thinking that there's going to be a love triangle between Pete and Amy and Nox, and I'm also thinking I'm not going to like it. Depending on how much focus this relationship takes in later books, it could be a deal-breaker.
This book, though, DOROTHY MUST DIE, isn't bad. As a retelling, it's decent. The writing is good and flows well (although it doesn't seem sure whether it wants to be a formal classically written fantasy novel or a breezy young adult narrative, and fluctuates wildly between the two styles). The author features characters taken not just from the Wizard of Oz, but all of the Oz stories (I'm hoping the Glass Cat will make an appearance; she was my favorite), which was nice. Even bitchy old Amy was a cool drink of water after the stale taste of too-perfect-to-be-true heroines I've been encountering in my usual YA fantasy line-ups, and that's definitely something we need more of.
3.5 out of 5 stars