I think "Dorothy Must Die" was one of the titles I initially thought had the most potential among some of the newer releases in YA for this year. I find the quirk in the title rather humorous and have seen variations of it before (a.k.a. "Hello Kitty Must Die," etc.) But sadly, Danielle Paige's debut really didn't impress me all that much.
It's the very definition of what I call "great premise, lacking execution." But that's not to say that I disliked it collectively. No, it left me quite disappointed because of its respective potential not reaching up to what was actually delivered. The ideas were sound, the delivery was not.
Amy is a sharp girl with pink hair, considered an outcast with a trailer park lifestyle, alongside considerations over a father who abandoned her and a mother she barely recognizes. When her home is swept away by a tornado, Amy lands in Oz. Yet, Oz is not the majestic wonder depicted either in L. Frank Baum's classic story or in the movie with Judy Garland. Dorothy, Glinda the "Good" Witch, Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion have all turned evil. Amy not only has to figure out exactly what happened to Oz, but determine her respective loyalties and ultimately accomplish one task: Kill Dorothy.
But for all the promise in the latter notation, maybe this narrative should've been titled "Dorothy Should Die." Or "Dorothy Almost Dies." Because there wasn't any Dorothy slaying going on in this book. More like the precursory details getting to that point. For as often as it kept reiterating that Dorothy *must* die and the build up associated with that, it didn't deliver. But that's not what bothered me the most about this book (though I'll admit the ending felt lackluster and not really an ending at all, just a cruel, incomplete lead-in to a series starter).
The story started off with steam - I followed Amy well enough as she was determined as an outcast thrown into Oz's otherworld, which seemed like an alternate version of Wonderland or Tim Burton's imaging of Halloween Town. Initially, this was cool. I also liked her rapport with Indigo, a cursing munchkin and Ollie, the wingless flying monkey. I even liked that this book didn't skimp on the violent details with some cruel fates delivered at the hands of the familiar character that were once pride and joys of the Oz narrative. So where did it all go wrong?
First issue that bothered me about this book was narrative pacing - it dragged to no end after a respective time. In some cases I was forgiving of the narrative because it seemed like it was trying to set up details about what happened with Oz, but when I realized Amy wasn't accomplishing a whole heck of a lot and that the characters would appear only to disappear for long stretches at a time (i.e. her pet rat Star and the boy entrusted to keep her safe, Pete), I became concerned. I wasn't really sure why so much time was spent on Amy being undercover, training, being in the dark about her Wicked associations and the like. I wanted the action to start picking up its pace and her goals to be more meaningful. It felt like Amy really wasn't doing a whole heck of a lot, despite some spells where we see examples of Dorothy, et. al's cruelty in this reimaging of Oz.
The second issue is related to the first: the more I thought about it, the more I realized this reimage of Oz really didn't have a lot of flesh to it. The environment was threadbare in its drawing, never immersed me completely. The strength to L. Frank Baum's original tales was that it had a strong sense of place in every book, alongside its respective cast of quirky and interesting characters. In this, I could only get a fraction of where this was taking place despite some cool descriptions here and there. That's probably the main thing - it *sounded* cool, but its heart was missing, much like Dorothy's purported turn to darkness. It felt lacking to a fine point.
Even the characters themselves felt only threadbare in their construction - serving a purpose before being tossed aside, sometimes for chapters at at time, with lacking development or threadbare motivations. I couldn't feel for them all that much. I initially felt for Amy because of her respective problems and even something of a snarky voice, but by the time I got to Oz, I just felt like the character motivation was dropped several notches on the building ladder. Amy's voice no longer carried her, she was being carried by the story events itself. It carried a guise where it seemed like Amy was being proactive for what the situation allowed, but only in spurts. I could get her motivations for wanting to help Ollie's sister, and consulting the magic mirror. But I just didn't get all the time spent where she was undercover for so long without so much as an idea of what she would have to do next. Not to mention waiting for other characters to act (though I understood that she was kept in the dark on purpose and some of her tasks were "tests" if you will.) The problem was that I just couldn't care despite being kept in the dark like Amy was.
Her attention to (and jealousy over) Nox annoyed me, but not to the point where the relation completely threw me from the novel. I think that may have been the start to where I started noticing things going downhill for the work, and where the pacing of the tale became problematic. I'll admit that even with Amy's recruitment into Wicked, I was bored from the lack of motivation and depiction. So much of that time could've been tightened up for events. I couldn't even feel for one of the major character deaths around that time because the pacing in that part of the novel crawled so much. The writing really wasn't that strong to me. Throwing in bits of Oz lore alongside major pop culture references didn't really endear me to the novel either. As much as I appreciated references to Wicked, the movie Highlander, Star Wars, and Harry Potter ("Not my daughter, you bitch!" "Not my dog, you bitch!"), it was trying too hard. It was trying *way* too hard to be modern and edgy. It felt false and *that* was what threw me out of the story more than a few times. It all came across as "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" and I wasn't buying what it sold for its commercial measures.
And maybe that was the problem - this feels like a commercial title, not so much taking advantage of the imaginative and interesting pieces that it puts forth. It's an introduction, but it never really carries the ideas home. Probably the only story thread I even felt remotely satisfied by in this tale was the journey to rescue Ollie's sister (and Indigo's respective role, but that was over before it really began). It's cake icing that's pretty and sweet, but you take a bite of it and that's all you're getting. Bring all the action, visual gore, snark, cursing munchkins, brain eating, ax grinding and such you want, but if you get to the heart of this, what does it really contribute? The answer really isn't all that much.
I may end up trying the sequel, but definitely with a lot less expectation and excitement than I had for this one. I can't say I would recommend it personally, though I think some will end up enjoying it for what it offers. You just have to wade through a lot of scenes where it seems like it introduces a lot of build up and cool stuff, but in the end, just puts a finger on the pulse of potential. And that leaves the experience hollow and something that I just couldn't get behind.
Overall: 2/5 stars.