by Gregory Maguire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wicked / 978-0-06-135096-2
"Wicked" is divided into five sections, each detailing the life and time of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba. The first segment of the book details the unfortunate circumstances of her birth and her unusual green skin, bright eyes, and sharp teeth. We then skip ahead to follow her through her difficult teenage years at a far-away college, studying life sciences and laboring for the Animal Rights Movement. After witnessing the terrible prejudice and injustice against the speaking animals, she deliberately chooses a life as an outcast, far beyond the reach of civilized society, first as an underground agitator and then as a recluse in a far-away land, laboring to forget the misfortune she has known and the pain she has witnessed.
"Wicked" humanizes the Witch in a way never thought possible. We see her joys, her struggles, her sorrows; the pain of being different because of her strange skin, her lost childhood caring for her younger sister, and the lost opportunities when the powerful Wizard invades Oz and forcibly takes it over for his own. Elphaba struggles, fights, and passionately cares about politics and human/Animal relations. She joins a separatist rebel movement and tries, in the valiant earnestness of youth, to make a difference.
Had the book stopped at the third volume, I would easily have given it five stars - the subject matter is delicious, the pacing is excellent, the vigorous pain of teenage years leaps off of every page. Yet the last two sections, dealing with Elphaba's outcast years and her eventual, regrettable demise have very slow pacing. The tone here is introspective, but the actual effect is hazy, lazy, and eventually rather dull. I felt as though I was slogging through to the end, which is a disappointing feeling after such a superb and promising beginning. I recommend "Wicked" as a very good read, and as a superb treatment on the nature of evil and the importance of eschewing prejudice, but do be prepared for the eventual slowdown of narration near the end.
~ Ana Mardoll
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