Updated: Dec 20, 2021
Did you know that Wicked the musical is based on a book? Did you know that that book is part of a series by Gregory Maguire? Did you know that he also wrote a book called Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister?
Neither did I know any of that until I found both the first two books of the Wicked series and the other book by Gregory Maguire at the library book sale. In fact, I did not know that Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister was by Gregory Maguire as well until very recently though I cannot quite remember how I came to realize it.
I have always been interested in the plotline of Wicked. I have never had the opportunity to watch the musical though I do enjoy the songs and I have always been somewhat confused as to what the plotline of the musical is. So this week, when I decided I did not want to read the library books I had checked out (nothing was happening in the first five or so pages and I was getting bored), I picked up Wicked and began to read.
I was immediately entranced. Maguire has a lovely writing style, somewhere between modern writing styles which are not eloquent to the level that he is, which use minimal words that you have to look up and which are always easy to read and understand, and the older writing styles of the early 1900s and before that are extremely eloquent and beautiful, which use really stunning language that the reader often has to look up unless they are really learned and have a vocabulary that surpasses mine by miles, and that can sometimes take a lot longer to read than modern books because they are a little more difficult to understand (think Les Miserable). I enjoyed it. I had been marking words and phrases I really liked in A Court of Mist and Fury (the second book in the Court of Thorns and Roses series) but I decided I could not do that for this book as there was simply too many words I would need to mark. The book would be overcome with post-its and I would never make my way through the book, I would spend too much time marking it up.
I really enjoyed the first few chapters. I felt they set the scene for Elphaba's birth, guided the reader through the birth, and explained her childhood thoroughly (if a bit too thoroughly). But then suddenly Maguire jumped forward from Elphaba at 5 or so to Elphaba at 17, going to college. There were so many missed years and so many questions.
Who was the father of Elphaba's sister? How did the Wizard come to power? What is the system of government like under the Wizard? Who is the Wizard? What was the rest of Elphaba's childhood like? What happened to Turtle Heart? What happened to Elphaba's mother and father?
Some of the questions are eventually answered but the author takes a long time to answer them and throughout the book, there are more jumps like these. I came to the conclusion that the book is incredible when it is good (which happens often) and the reader can become entranced in Maguire's eloquent writing style and stunning language, beautifully built characters, and interesting world. However, the rest of the time, Maguire seems to give too much information about unnecessary things so you find your eyes glazing over and boredom sets in and the only reason you keep reading is because he does not give you the important information and you are reading in the hopes that he will fill you in later.
This is not simply foreshadowing or the author holding back vital information and choosing to give you it at a particular time to stun you and make it all very exciting (both of which are excellent tools in an author's toolbelt when used properly and terrible when done wrong). Rather, Maguire tends to have long bits of book that are really good and great reads and then short bits of book that leave the reader both confused and bored.
But for the good bits, I would read it again and I would suggest the book to anyone who enjoys a good fairytale twist or the musical Wicked itself. Though the musical seems to dramatically stray from the book (from my limited knowledge of the musical, I seem to recall Elphaba being excited about the possibility of working with the Wizard in the musical. Not so in the book where the Wizard has done detrimental things to Oz), I think lovers of the musical would still love the book which does have the same feeling as the musical does (a whimsical telling of a deep dark story).