by Gregory Maguire

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Review

In some ways, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is exactly what you would expect it to be - a retelling of the story before and during the Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Witch, Elphaba. I knew going in that it was darker and more adult in tone than the Frank L. Baum books (of which I've only read the original, and don't remember much of the detail). I also knew that several people, whose taste often aligns with mine, loved it.

The story begins with Elphaba overhearing Dorothy Gale and her strange companions gossiping about the evilness of the Witch. It then bounces through some of the important episodes in Elphaba's life - her birth and early childhood (when her green skin and odd features separate her from her community and family), her college years (where she makes friends and explores causes), her young adulthood (when her life gets very complicated), and a period of penance for her feelings of guilt (some of which are warranted, some are not) - before rejoining the Dorothy timeline as her sister is killed by a tornado-borne house. I expected to be fascinated by Elphaba's story (who doesn't want to know more about a good villain), but I found her kind of boring until about half way through the book. By then, you're viewing her from the perspective of another character, and so missing a lot of understanding about her as a protagonist.

Getting to see some background to this well known story, from a fresh perspective, is intriguing. Maguire shares insights into what has made the Witch who she is, and he weaves in dark commentary on politics, racism, and class struggles well. However, he also throws in some elements that are just, well...weird. Not weird in a "how interesting" or "what a great character developing scene" way, but weird in a "wow, that was awkward" and "what does that have to do with the story or characters?" way. I found those diversions distracting and occasionally disturbing, since they didn't seem to have real purpose.

In the end, I didn't hate Wicked, but I didn't exactly like it either. Perhaps, I expected too much, but ultimately I feel pretty indifferent. I think I'll quit the series while I'm ahead.

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