Bewitched in Oz
By Laura J. Burns
Expected publication August 1, 2014 by Capstone Press
Though the use of magic is forbidden, Zerie Greenapple doesn't see the harm in practicing it. Things change, however, when Flying Monkeys come and carry off one of her friends. With her remaining friends, Zerie sets off a quest to rescue Tabitha - but they must traverse the dangerous lands of Oz. Will they make it in time?
I'm sure I've mentioned many times that I'm a big fan of retellings - fairy tales, classic stories, urban legends, anything really. I love new takes on old stories. I'm also a big Oz fan - I watch the movie every year and I've read a number of retellings of the story. When I first heard about this book, I was obviously intrigued. I'm lucky enough to be auto-approved by Capstone on NetGalley, so when I spotted this one, I happily downloaded away.
What a huge disappointment it turned out to be. This book has potential, but it just fails to succeed. For people who've only seen the movie or read the first book, much of the Oz that Zerie and her friends explore will be unfamiliar to them, but it's all very interesting. This takes place after Dorothy and her friends have visited Oz, with Princess Ozma ruling the land. No one but Ozma is allowed to practice magic, something that Zerie finds impossible to resist once she's unlocked her natural born talent. It has the beginnings of a fun adventure story.
Unfortunately, the book just isn't well-written. The language, characters, and plot development are all incredibly simplistic. Let's look at each piece. The language is just frustrating. I've said before that I don't like it when it feels like an author is writing down to an audience - and that's kind of what it feels like here. I'm not sure if that was the intention, or just that perhaps Burns' prose needs a little more refining, but it just isn't good. For some reason, the author finds it necessary to repeat what I suppose she believes is the book's message, "Friends are strongest when together" (something along those lines, I don't have it in front of me to check exact wordage). It feels like the author doesn't think readers will be smart enough to figure this out without being beat over the head with it repeatedly.
The characters - they are supposed to be 16. They don't read like any 16 year-olds I know. They read much younger. Additionally, none of them are developed fully. I don't feel like I could distinguish between them aside from the different abilities their magic gives them. The little information we're given about them is very bland and uninteresting. It doesn't make me care about them or their quest at all. Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of their characters is that Zerie spends about 90% of her time more concerned about which boy she should like and whether or not her friend likes him too. And this is happening while they are being hunted by apparently evil Flying Monkeys who have already kidnapped their friend. I mean, the author wants you to believe that they are consistently on the verge of absolute peril but then Zerie will start wondering if she's still in love with Ned or if maybe she likes Brink instead. It's just plain ridiculous.
And the plot is not much better. Like I said, it had potential - magic outlawed, a quest to rescue a friend, the extraordinary land of Oz. But it's so simplistic - one terrible thing happens, they find a way out, then the next terrible thing happens. Lather, rinse, repeat. And the big twist at the end? Not surprising at all.
I can't find any definitive information, but it seems clear that this is intended to be book one of a series. I will not be back for book two.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via NetGalley.