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Review #1

Wicked audiobook free

I have a rocky history with this book. Tried to read it as a teen, found it boring, and quit. Then more recently, I saw the musical and loved it! Then I felt like a poser for preferring the lighter and softer version, contrary to my normal tastes, so decided to give the book another try. To my surprise, this time around it was a completely enthralling, intense emotional experience in a way books rarely are for me anymore (and good thing too–I finished more than a week ago and am still recovering).

As the subtitle makes clear, this book tells the backstory of the stock villain from The Wizard of Oz–but (I suspect this has a lot to do with its low rating), it’s not much like the original children’s tale, nor like its own musical adaptation. Oz here is a dark, ugly and all-too-familiar place, rather than a magical fantasyland; people suffer, fail at their endeavors, and die; it’s almost nihilistic, although lightened by some humor and absurdities. Readers should also be prepared for a somewhat unorthodox structure: the book covers almost 40 years, which means some significant time-skips, and we see a large chunk of the story through the eyes of characters who aren’t actually important (although they think they are, naturally enough, which may make it jarring for some when they disappear).

I’d talk about the plot, which I did find compelling, but this is a character-driven book and not especially fast-paced, so I’ll cut right to the chase: Elphaba is awesome. Seriously, she is a fantastic protagonist. She’s smart, prickly, idealistic, sarcastic, passionate, solitary, complicated, very human and also deeply messed up (okay, those last two are redundant). She is not nice, and maybe even becomes wicked, but she’s one of the few people in this book who can see past the end of her nose, and does she ever pay for it. She makes her own decisions, based on her own sense of right and wrong, without depending on anyone for help or advice. So basically, I love Elphaba, which made for some painful reading, but says a lot about Maguire’s characterization.

Oh, yeah, almost all of the other characters are good too, even if they can’t see past the end of their noses most of the time. People are more complicated than they may initially appear, and have complicated relationships, and are anything but black-and-white.

The worldbuilding is also enjoyable; it feels early-20th-century (appropriately enough), which is quite different from your typical fantasy world, and Maguire does a good job of developing the society, especially early in the book. There’s a lot of politics, and religion, and social issues, which in itself makes the world feel more real and tangible. In the end, though, Oz is meant to be a reflection of our world, and I found the satire quite well-done and not too heavy-handed. For instance, at first it seemed weird that this is such a brutal world, and yet people either don’t notice or don’t care…. but wait a minute, that’s the point. They’re privileged white folks and they don’t have to worry about it.

Thematically, much has been made about how this book will “challenge your preconceptions about good and evil”–and it did make me think, although not exactly in the way I expected. After all, if you’re old enough to read Wicked, your idea of “evil” is probably not a children’s-book villain in a black pointy hat (a white pointy hat would be another story, but that’s not a preconception Maguire wants to challenge, and for good reason). And that there are multiple sides to any story shouldn’t be challenging either. For me, this book’s treatment of good and evil is best summed up by a dinner party scene, where the diners are confronted with a guest who admits to having just murdered an old woman in her bed. They proceed to have a spirited theoretical discussion about the meaning of “evil,” and utterly fail to make a moral judgment about the situation at hand, let alone act on it by, say, calling the police. That’s the sort of bizarre and, yes, challenging and disturbing material you’ll find in this book.

As far as the writing style goes, I’ve seen it called both great and terrible; I personally found it good in a mostly unremarkable way, but recommend that you sample a couple of chapters before you buy. This will also let you see how you feel about the sometimes grotesque imagery, which seems to be what people are generally referring to when they object to the sex in this book–there are very few actual sex scenes.

So, why am I not giving 5 stars? The dialogue, while mostly good, didn’t always quite ring true. There are some elements I find unconvincing and/or lame: the infamous “I don’t know if I had a baby”; minor characters claiming late in the book to have manipulated significant parts of the plot; Fiyero’s blandness (personality-wise, he totally fails to live up to his role in the plot, which I think is the point, but still). On the positive side, some elements I found lame in the musical (girls fighting over boys, blah) are absent here.

Review #2

Wicked audiobook Series The Wicked Years

I was introduced to the music of the Broadway musical Wicked not that long ago, and was immediately intrigued with the idea of the Wicked Witch of the West not being as evil as she was made out to be in The Wizard of Oz. What if it was the Wizard who was the evil one? The idea of turning such a revered story on its head was too much to resist, and I was pleasantly surprised when my friend starbreiz sent me some items from my Amazon wishlist, including Wicked by Gregory Maguire.

::: There Is Always More to the Story :::

Gregory Maguire’s first novel turned one of the most established legends of our time on its ear with its premise: what if the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz wasn’t so wicked after all, but was actually viewed that way based only on perception? The story surrounds the life of Elphaba, the daughter of a minister and a woman who wasn’t the most faithful minister’s wife ever. Her unfortunate tale begins with her birth, when she is born with green skin, teeth so sharp she bites her own skin, and an aversion to water. Her mother turns to herbal drugs, and her missionary father believes that Elphaba’s condition is somehow his fault. The only stable figure is really Elphaba’s mother’s former nanny, who comes to take care of the little green girl.

Elphaba’s childhood is defined by her father’s missionary work in Quadling country, the poorest section of Oz, and a far cry from the upper class of Munchinland to which her mother was born.

Maguire picks up the story when Elphaba is older, and a new student at Shiz, the university of Oz. The university is divided into all-male and all-female colleges, and Elphaba ends up rooming with the very snobby Galinda, much to Galinda’s dismay. Elphaba quickly becomes suspicious of the headmistress, Madame Morrible, and after an Animal (the walking, talking, intelligent versions, much like the Cowardly Lion) professor dies under mysterious circumstances, Elphaba finagles an audience with the Wizard for herself and Galinda, where she quickly realizes that the Wizard is not the paternalistic ruler he was believed to be.

Elphaba sends Galinda back to Shiz and begins a life of resistance, first on behalf of the Animals, then with a life in a convent (or mauntery, as they call it), and finally ends up in the land of the Vinkus, where she creates her famed winged monkeys, begins to dabble in sorcery, and her story intersects with the story of Dorothy that we all grew up with.

::: Politics, Social Classes, Despots… Just Like Real Life :::

Trying to sum up the various plots in Wicked is impossible, and I feel impotent even attempting it. Maguire has created an incredible character and the book will leave you unable to watch the movie the same way again. Not only has he created a rich and sympathetic character in Elphaba, but he has also created a world that seems so real that every time I had to put the book down to do something else I felt as if I was being jolted from one world to another.

While at times it might seem as if Maguire is leaving too much out, jumping as he does from one period in Elphaba’s life to another, he has chosen the most significant points to focus on; each set of experiences is one that would have shaped the woman who became known as the Wicked Witch of the West.

The hardest part of reading Wicked is knowing how it is going to end. From the start, you know that Elphaba is doomed; that she will die at Dorothy’s hand, and nothing will change that. Still, even knowing this, you find yourself hoping against hope that Maguire will change the story and find a loophole for Elphaba, that she won’t truly die, but live on, fighting the corrupt Wizard and everything he has created.

::: This Isn’t Broadway :::

For those introduced to the softer side of Elphaba through the Broadway show of the same name, the novel will probably be a huge surprise. “Based on” is the operative phrase in the description of the musical, which has a far simpler plot than the novel. It would have been impossible to condense all the political intrigue and vast cast of characters in the novel into a musical, and many of the plot devices were oversimplified, including the love affair between Elphaba and Fiyero. The Boq of the novel is, in fact, a Munchinlander who had a crush on Galinda/Glinda, but he plays a far more important role in helping Elphaba in her research for Doctor Dillamond, and later, in helping Dorothy. While I love the show, the book has a much greater depth than the musical, and requires more of the reader than the audience member.

Wicked is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long, long time. I find myself reading it over again, still hoping that Elphaba can be saved, and still getting lost in the world of Oz as Maguire sees it. This is a book not to be missed, and I guarantee that you’ll never view blue gingham and ruby slippers the same way again.

Review #3

Audiobook Wicked by Gregory Maguire

I enjoyed this book although I can see where the negative reviews came from. I am impressed by the writers ability to create a full lore surrounding the politics and religions of Oz. That is the what the story is founded upon….politics and religion. There is some enjoyable creativity in the storyline but a lot of politics. He writes characters well and this book is full of ideas. I appreciate the trouble gone into filling out the details of the lion, tinman and scarecrow in brief asides and I felt myself being pulled along by the story. I can’t help feeling a bit disappointed by all the intesting vents and characters that just went nowhere and dropped as loose ends. Wanted opportunities. But…it’s fun and I want to read the rest.

Review #4

Audio Wicked narrated by John McDonough

But just couldn’t get into it somehow. I was expecting the story of the novel to be different to that of the musical, but the book seemed to have very little in the terms of plot. The story is separated into several different parts. Some of which are more interesting than others. I enjoyed somewhat the bits with Elphaba at school, and getting to know other friends. But after they left the school, the plot dragged and the style of writing of the author didn’t flow well enough to keep my interest. Quite a lot that happens seems to have very little relevance to the overall story. So consequently the ending fell flat, and I didn’t find myself caring what happened.

Review #5

Free audio Wicked – in the audio player below

I bought this novel because it was the inspiration behind the musical of the same name by the composer Stephen Schwartz, A man who I regard in the highest esteem as a song writer and an icon. The fact that he managed to produce a musical based on it highlights his talents, because, in my opinion, it was the most awful novel I have ever read. Now not having read all that many novels, I’m not really qualified to say whether or not it is the absolute worst, hence ‘Contender’ in the headline.

Working from the novel rather than the film of the wizard of Oz, it tells the story(Story?!, no story here. Just a load of characters waffling on and talking absolute piffle.) of Oz before and up and till Dorothy arrives there, and a bit beyond that.

I was hoping it would get better after the prologue. It did not. If anything, it got worst. It would appear that the author, Gregory Maguire, is one of those people whose motto is why use ten words when you can use a thousand. In fact if he were to get paid by the word, he would be the world’s richest man, for There were so many characters with stupid names coming out of the wood work, so many unnecessary descriptions, that it left very little if any room for any of the development that makes one care for the characters. After the first few pages or so, my first instinct was to give up. The only reason I stuck with it is the fact that I paid a fiver for it. (Amazon should have paid me)

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