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by Frank Beddor
In this sequel to The Looking Glass Wars, young Queen Alyss has scarcely claimed the throne of Wonderland—the “true” version behind Lewis Carroll’s garbled account—when already she faces another threat to the peace and security of her realm. Her Imperial Viciousness, the ex-Queen Redd, has escaped through the Heart Crystal that enables the queens of Alyss’s bloodline to rule through the power of pure imagination. Too soon, Redd is ready to stage a comeback, complete with a gang of otherworldly ruffians. Meanwhile, King Arch of the neighboring Borderlands has his own designs on the Queendom, plans based on a ludicrous form of machismo raised to the level of political ideology. Armed with weapons of freakish deadliness, seconded by henchpersons whose powers of inflicting death are as disturbing as their lack of humane values, and shrewd enough to hedge their bets with, for example, a bit of hostage-taking, these villains could not only overwhelm Wonderland’s defenses but even destroy it forever.
Meanwhile, Alyss faces dilemmas closer to home. First, there’s the matter of Dodge, the young guardsman she has loved since they were children, but who is consumed with vengeance against the anthropomorphic cat who murdered his father. Then there’s Homburg Molly, the queen’s half-blooded bodyguard from a race of warriors, called Milliners, whose specialty is weaponized headwear. Molly’s disappearance coincides with an outbreak of trouble that threatens the power of “white imagination” throughout Wonderland, stops up the looking-glass transportation system, and leads the father Molly never knew—the Hatter—on a queen-defying quest that at times seems like downright madness.
This fast-paced book is crammed with magical whimsies, macabre twists, furious battles, sneaky double-crosses, and Lewis-Carrollian imagery turned upside-down and inside-out as though in a fun-house mirror. Romance, family tragedy, Victorian-era alternate history, fantastic creatures, dancing skeletons, terrible poetry (what you get when you let slip the doggerels of war), and characters ranging from creepily ambivalent to flamboyantly evil, all crowd into the same canvas as card-soldiers, living chessmen, and a species of large-eared albino tutors. Somehow, it seems to be over too soon. But that’s all right; the series continues with a third book, titled Arch Enemy. Plus, author Beddor has co-authored a related series of graphic novels, collectively known as Hatter M.