So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


The Emerald Wand of Oz, by Sherwood Smith.

Sherwood Smith is an award winning author who was contracted by Byron Preiss to write 4 novels as the new Royal Historian of Oz for the L. Frank Baum Family Trust. This is the first of 2 novels published by HarperCollins as part of that agreement. The second book, Trouble Under Oz (2006), continues where this book leaves off. A third called Sky Pirates of Oz was written, but Preiss's death in 2005 & subsequent bankruptcy put the future of that book and the fourth book into doubt.

The story is about Dorothy Gale's modern day grand nieces Em and Dori who are transported to Oz by a tornado where they get caught up in adventures with local Oz characters new and old. Like Dorothy, they live in Kansas in an unhappy household. Their parents are separated and they respond to the stress in opposite ways. Em is practical and realistic like her namesake Aunt Em, while Dori is disorganized and imaginative, dreaming of the fairy land her namesake Dorothy once visited.

Every Oz story has a visit to at least one strange place filled with amusing but dangerous inhabitants. Dori and Em start their Oz adventure in Unicorn Valley, which is reminiscent of "My Little Pony" with brightly colored unicorns living with children who spend their days grooming and decorating the vain animals. The girls want to get home to Kansas to let their mother know they are alright, so they decide to visit the castle of Glinda the good witch of the south. Only the unicorns, needing groomers, will not let them go. Teaming up with a boy named Rik, and with the help of a freshwater mermaid, they escape Unicorn Valley. However they can't escape an ominous cloud with barely visible faces that seems to follow them.

When they arrive at Glinda's castle Dori and Em find out that a witch named Bastinda, the niece of Dorothy's Wicked Witch of the West, has ransacked the castle for magical tools and used an emerald wand to magically steal Glinda's smarts, leaving her and everyone in the castle laconic and dazed. Scraps the Patchwork Girl tells Em that Bastinda has stolen Ozma's smarts as well, casting an evil spell on all the people of the Emerald City. Meanwhile, Dori discovers that Rik is after magical tools for his own purposes. Dori and Em must team up with Scraps and other famous non-human Oz characters who are free of the spell in a three-way struggle with Bastinda and Rik to get the emerald wand and break the enchantments.

Sherwood Smith devotes 75 pages to Unicorn Valley which makes the first half of the book slow, but the pace picks up and never slackens once the girls leave. This is a wonderful book for anyone who has read L. Frank Baum's early Oz books or seen the movie. Smith is marvelous at character development and her characters Rik, Bastinda, and Bastinda's Giant Gecko Guards are complex and rewarding. They fit in well with her recreations of such Oz personages as Scraps, Scarecrow, Jack Pumpkinhead and the Glass Cat.

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