I don’t know much about the Oz stories. I’ve only ever seen the original hit classic, the kind of mediocre Oz: The Great and Powerful, and the AWESOME stage play Wicked. Still, one afternoon while browsing through a book store, I came across an interesting book: Dorothy Must Die. I was intrigued and, as I usually do with new authors, I decided to do research. It was in doing this research that I came across this prequel novella to the book, No Place Like Oz.
The story follows Dorothy after the events of the original story. She’s been living in Kansas for a while and has been celebrated for her miraculous survival of that fateful storm. However, she finds herself distraught because of how boring her life is. She misses Oz and all the magic and wonder she experienced there. Well, one day after her disastrous 16th birthday, she’s given a way through a new pair of magical, blood red shoes. And this time her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are along for the ride.
You might be saying to yourself “Isn’t Reader Beware supposed to be talking about horror novels? Oz books aren’t horror novels! What madness is going through your brain, Richard?” You’re right and I agree with you to a point. On the surface, this book isn’t about horror, it’s about Dorothy’s return to Oz. And yet, there are definitely elements of horror in the book. There’s one blatant horror scene where Dorothy and her relatives are walking through a forest that wails in agony and feeds on their fear. However, most of the horror in the story comes from a very unlikely place: Dorothy herself.
At the beginning of the story, Dorothy is a strait up teenage brat. She constantly complains that her life on the farm is boring and she feels alienated by her friends and family because of her fame. However, once she gets the shoes and returns to Oz, you start seeing the real horror of her character. (THE FOLLOWING IS A MINOR SPOILER.) As Dorothy learns about the magic of the shoes, she becomes more and more corrupt to the point that she even sees her own aunt and uncle as enemies. Her corruption grows slowly through the book until an absolutely batshit insane moment at the end. Trust me, the development of her character through this book is horrifying.
As to the atmosphere and writing style of the book, the author has a good sense of how Oz feels to the audience (even to those who have never read about it before). While reading it, I almost was able to picture Kansas in my head as colored in the brown and white of the film. In contrast to that, I pictured Oz as being bright and colorful with all the quirky characters we’ve come to know and love. However, because this IS set after the initial journey, the main side characters have gone through some changes. Tin Man is overly emotional, Scarecrow is very chatty, and the no-longer-cowardly Lion is an outright brute. Still, these changes for what they were felt natural for these characters in this particular book.
In the end, this is a very solid introduction to this series. The book overall felt like a gritty reboot of Oz rather than an outright sequel, which is good. The atmosphere feels fantastical and tense in all the right places. Dorothy becomes outright terrifying. I can only hope that the main book, Dorothy Must Die, feels just as tense as this one did. Or else, I may need to drop a house on the author…