I read Wicked, by Gregory Maguire, a while back, and it changed my world. The politics of Oz – the complex, contrary, and convoluted characters – and the rather converse way of looking at Dorothy (and her little dog, too) were breathtaking. Elphaba – who becomes the Wicked Witch of the West – is not a particularly nice person, and not even always very sympathetic, but she is irresistible. Having read this, there is no way I would go and see the musical. I’m sure it’s very well done, and I hear that it manages to be quite complex, but… there is simply no way it could do the book justice.
Son of a Witch is the sequel. It follows Liir, who may or may not be Elphaba’s son, over about 10 years of his life. Again, it’s stunningly well written – Maguire has a beautiful way with words, quirky and yet apt descriptions that conjure up pictures effortlessly. (I think I’m going into raptures here… it really is that good, though.) Liir is a bizarre critter in many ways. Nothing about his childhood was conventional; with no real family history, he feels adrift and rootless in a world that is going through its own turmoils. I had to check the copyright page to see when this was written, and 2005 doesn’t surprise me; it feels very much like a book written in a world of Wars on Terror and all the attendant issues that the West has experienced over the last eight years or so. (I’m sure this sort of politics was written about before that, but I do think it’s had a huge impact on worldbuilding recently.) Again, Liir is not entirely sympathetic as a character. He does some dreadful things, and his willy-nilly-ness sometimes gets annoying. Nonetheless, he is compelling and engaging.
This is a brilliant book. I’m a bit sad there doesn’t appear to be a third, since the conclusion seems to leave it open; there’s another book set in Oz, but it focuses on the Cowardly Lion and I’m not sure I’m ready to read about Oz and not have it focus on Elphaba, just yet. (Instead I’ve bought Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, which I’m terribly excited about.) Even if you’re not a huge fan of the ‘fractured fairytale’ type of story, don’t be put off – I’ve not read the original Oz books, and I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything. It’s about family, and politics, and finding your place, and living in history’s shadow, and taking responsibility… and did I mention that the writing is to swoon over?