Dorothy Must Die | Dorothy Must Die #1 | ISBN 9780062280671 | HarperCollins, 2014 | 3 out of 5 Points
“I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado – taking you with it – you have no choice but to go along, you know?
Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still a yellow brick road – but even that’s crumbling.
What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe. My name is Amy Gumm – and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I’ve been trained to fight. And I have a mission.”
This seems to be becoming a theme: A book starts so slowly that I have far too much time to notice all the things that I dislike, and then all of a sudden it becomes really good around the 50% mark and I find myself thinking ‘But if I was so annoyed by the first 50%, how is it that I’m now enjoying this so much?’
This has happened with “The Lies of Locke Lamora” before, and now it happened with “Dorothy Must Die” as well. A slow beginning (after an initial burst of action), world-building that leaves too many questions unanswered, plot parts that leave me very unsatisfied, are suddenly turned into fast, high-stakes, interesting adventures when it’s already nearly too late to save the story. This always leaves me with a problem: Am I rating the first part? Am I rating the last part? And if I mix my rating, am I unfair to the last part, or am I condoning the problems of the first part?
So to help me figure out this dilemma, let’s take a look at the things that I did not like, and then at the things I did like.
THE CHOSEN ONE AND HER DARK KNIGHT
This book is so goddamn trope-y. You might know that I like tropes every once in a while, but the first half of this book sadly doesn’t give me the juicy kind of high-stakes tropes that I love. Instead we are presented with a heroine who has to learn how to hero, and who has to go through a Training Montage for that reason. Basically, after a pretty good, if a little slow start, our protagonist and other-girl-from-Kansas Amy is saved from the evil Dorothy by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, who start to train her to become a master-assassin and to kill Dorothy. For that reason, she learns how to use magic, how to fight, and how to do etiquette, I guess? It becomes important later in the story, but it’s a bit silly when you first read it.
What annoyed me most about this, except chapter after chapter of description of all the things she has to learn (I don’t really like training montages), was her fighting teacher. You see, there seems to be only one male person in the whole order, his name is Nox (aka the most emo name the author could possibly come up with), and since he is the only person in the Order with balls to accompany his wand, he is obviously the best fighter and has to train Amy. First of all, saying that a teenage boy is a better fighter than three grown-up Witches is sexist to begin with, but the book is not even consistent about that: A while later, two more members of the Order show up, both girls, and it is established that one of those girls keeps beating Nox in nearly every match, so why isn’t she training Amy?
Well, because Amy has to have time to fall in love with Nox of course. And of course she thinks he hates her at first, and of course he is the only one who doesn’t believe she will be their salvation, and of course he makes her angry by verbally abusing her and dragging out her worst traumas just to make her learn how to fight. And of course they fall hopelessly in love.
The worst thing about that is that it’s not even unrealistic. Teenage girls are not very rational about who they want to date, everybody who used to be a teenage girl knows that. But this whole romance is just so… Strange. So cookie-cutter. They’re basically together because they have to be together so that there’s a romance in the story. The only chemistry they have is them constantly insulting each other. Just… why…
TELL ME AGAIN, I WASN’T LISTENING
By the way, the thing with Nox being called the best fighter of the Order and then not actually being the best fighter of the Order is not the only time this book is just hopelessly inconsistent. For example, Amy already learns from her travel companions on the first part of her journey that Dorothy is harvesting magic from the soil of Oz. But when she is with the order, suddenly that is totally news and shocking to her??? Girl, you’ve known that thing for five chapters now, how did you forget about that again?
Some parts of the book also sometimes seem like they don’t belong to the same draft. There is a scene during the training montage, in which Amy is shown a shadowy image of Dorothy and her entourage, which she thinks is real and which, as it turns out later, has been projected by Nox. But when she later refers to this scene, she keeps saying it’s what she saw in ‘Glamora’s scrying pool’ – but Glamora’s scrying pool isn’t even mentioned during the time she spends with the Order. It’s as if there’d been an earlier version of that scene, and as if the references to this earlier version had not been spotted during a following edit.
One thing that wasn’t quite a mistake, but a little strange continuity-wise was that the first Dorothy-statue Amy stumbles across has silver slippers, which was the color that the shoes had in the original story. Since Paige generally draws a lot from the book instead of the iconic film I was pleasantly surprised to see that – and very unpleasantly surprised when the real, non-stone Dorothy was actually wearing red shoes like in the film.
Which brings us to Dorothy as our villain.
Oh God, there is so much to unpack here. First of all, if you thought there wouldn’t be any thebookabelles-typical historical rant here, you were very wrong. Because even though Dorothy is a girl from 1900 Kansas, she behaves as if she’d been brought up in the 1980s at the latest. Her iconic red shoes are sky-high pumps, her clothes are all late 20th century at the earliest (even though they all have that iconic blue-and-white gingham pattern), and she seems to have a special penchant for nail art. And I just don’t understand it. It might not be a real problem since this book has obviously no ambitions to be historical in any way, but still, this is such a strange decision. Though of course, I’m pretty sure that the reason why Paige didn’t go with a more era-appropriate style for Dorothy is to make sure we all know what an absolute bitch she is. After all, she’s the only woman in the book who dares to wear revealing outfits. I can’t even start to count all the times that Amy describes how low-cut Dorothy’s clothing is. There is some serious slut-shaming going on here, and since all girls in this book who are not servants are described as super bitchy haters, I’m kind of worried about the kind of picture this book is painting.
I mean, let’s get one thing clear: There is nothing bad about wearing low-cut dresses. There is nothing wrong about wearing high pumps. And there is nothing wrong about the color pink, which, confusingly, is at the same time used to express Amy’s rebelliousness (she dyed her hair pink) and Dorothy’s excesses (when Amy comes into her room for the first time, she describes it as having ‘every nauseating shade’ of pink imaginable). I really don’t know why authors are still writing overly-sexualized villainesses, but there it is, and it’s goddamn Dorothy. This is so fucking strange. Would her evilness have been too subtle if she had been wearing dresses that didn’t show off her boobs?
There is another trope used in this book that I know from far too many Fantasy novels and which I hate nearly as much as the sex villainess-trope. I don’t want to spoil anything, but somebody dies at some point to protect Amy. Since this is a semi-dystopian YA novel, I really don’t consider that a spoiler. But the thing is that the sacrifice is so useless. It takes place during a lull in an action scene, when the heroine is already very much motivated enough to go and fight Dorothy, and it was obviously not the only way that Amy could have been saved. It was basically a death for drama’s sake, and I just really can’t stand this kind of character wasting. If there had been more action, if it had actually been the only way out, I’d have been very okay with it, but it just wasn’t. It was completely useless, and I felt kind of cheated after reading it.
Oh, also there is so much fabricated tension that doesn’t need to be there. Nobody tells Amy anything about the plan because ‘She doesn’t need to know’. Everybody has secrets, you can’t trust anybody, Amy believes everybody hates her, blah blah blah. It was just annoying after a while, and a lot of the secret-keeping and problems just didn’t feel organic, especially in the first half of the book.
THE GOOD AMONG THE WICKED
Now, as I said, I did like the second part of this book, even though I found it very unrealistic that Amy was able to do so much magic and fight so well after just a few weeks of training. But basically, from the moment Amy leaves the Order to go into spy-mode at the palace, I just really enjoyed reading this book. I have to tell you that ‘going under-cover as a servant’ is one of my favorite tropes ever, partly because I love reading about the lives of servants in history and fantasy, and I just really enjoyed this part. A lot of it was cleaning and stuff, but there were enough twists and turns and near-misses that made it fast enough to enjoy these chapters. The characters she meets in the castle are also a lot more interesting than those outside. Finally, no long descriptions about how infuriating and horrible and hot Nox is anymore.
I really can’t say too much about the second half of this novel because there’d be major spoilers, and that’s a shame, especially since I told you quite a lot about all the things I didn’t like about the first half. There are a lot of interesting plot seeds strewn into the book, and it actually really made me want to read the next one, so it really can’t have been that bad, can it?
There’s just one last thing I’d like to mention: When I started this book, I was nearly sure that there’d be a love triangle. As somebody who reads very little YA, this was a little strange for me, like as if I had heard people complain about being bitten by a mosquito for years and now had my first bite. It’s just very foreign to me, this whole love-triangle thing, and I was pretty sure that I did not like it. Turns out, I was wrong, and boy, did the book play me there. Well done, Paige, well done.
For now, I’m giving this book 3 Points. Maybe the next one is going to convince me more; I do definitely hope that it gets more epic. You know, more adventure, less training chapters. The end was already pretty great, and I’m just really hoping that the next book is going to continue the pace of the second half and not go back to endless, repetitive explanation about the very vague magic system of this world. I wouldn’t call “Dorothy Must Die” a good book in and of itself, but it’s a solid series starter.
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