Book: The Emerald Wand of Oz

The Emerald Wand of Oz
Sherwood Smith
Ill. by William Stout
2005

I really enjoyed this book a great deal, which surprised me. The beginning really turned me off (it reminded me a little too much of Dorothy – Return to Oz), but the book got much better after a while. I liked the realism of the characters, even the classic ones, even when I had to wonder why they had been included (it felt like Smith chose a random selection of characters to use and never altered it when it became apparent that some of them were totally unnecessary). Scraps in particular felt wonderfully real. The plot was interesting, if rather thin (a lot of extra space in the book where “other stuff” happens). I liked the inclusion of the Nome prince.

I did have a few issues with the book. The first was basically the first third of the book. In it two girls from Kansas (who are strangely convinced that they are related to Dorothy, who never grew up and moved to Oz with her aunt and uncle who never had kids, so where these relatives came from is somewhat of a mystery) get swept to Oz in a tornado. Actually, how they got there is kind of confusing, but it’s an Oz book so a little confusion on technical issues is to be expected. Then they spend a third or more of the book grooming multicoloured unicorns. Yep, unicorns. Never knew there were unicorns in Oz? Me neither! Nothing happens in this entire section. They argue and groom unicorns. That’s it. It’s really boring and really tempted me to put the book down. The second issue was all the loose ends. I realize that he’s setting up for a sequel or two, but the sheer number of loose ends in this book was ridiculous. Even assuming sequels, a book should kind of be able to exist on it’s own. I’m not sure this really can. I didn’t leave the book thinking “cool story, I wonder what might happen later?”; I left it thinking “but what about the clouds, and Dorothy missing, and …”. It really hurt the experience of reading the book.

The witch was the niece of the Wicked Witch of the West, which seems to be the current trend in Oz books. She was inconsistently portrayed (especially between the illustrations and text), but otherwise a pretty good character. Her magic made a teenager kind of sense rather than simply being a copy of the Wicked Witch of the West’s style. I particularly liked her transformed guards with their tiny, easily confused lizard brains. The whole section of the book that took place in the witch’s castle was well done. The pacing was good and the characters found some clever solutions to problems (the Scarecrow in particular was used wonderfully in this section).

The illustrations were beautifully done, particularly the wonderful cover picture of Princess Ozma, which is just lovely. They were spaced nicely throughout the book and usually very appropriate to the section they were in. My only issue was the occasional inconsistency between the illustrations and the text. Several times the witch is described wearing a pretty, long purple gown, but in the illustration she is wearing jean shorts and a button-down shirt that is too big for her. It’s a rather jarring difference. The art is exceptionally well done, however, with nice references back to original Oz art by Denslow and Neill. The portraits of the original characters such as Scraps and Jack Pumpkinhead are charming and very reminiscent of the original books.

Overall I really liked this book, despite its frustrating aspects. I look forward to the sequel and hope that it will be even better than this one!

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