Borrowing aspects from the "Oz" books by L. Frank Baum and the "Wizard of Oz" movie Gregory Maguire tells the story of the "Wicked Witch of the West." In this book we learn that the witch was not the wicked one only a side affect of a very superstitious land of Oz, and the political conspiracies of the Wizard of Oz. The wizard is the one to be made out as the bad guy. Where does Dorothy come in? Well, she is merely a pawn for the Wizard to sacrifice so he can have Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) killed and he won't have to worry about a hostile takeover of his regime.
Gregory Maguire has written in this book a great retelling of the land of Oz that sucks you in and never lets you go. This epic novel could easily be place in the same category as J.R.R. Tolkien's "Rings" books and Frank Herbert's "Dune" series, in that it creates a world that has many possibilities and has an ongoing quest that is full of mystery and intrigue. Also the bad guy (gal/witch) is not bad and the good guy (wizard) is not so good, so there's a twist for you my pretties.
Okay when the novel first starts out you begin to think this is one of those that begins to tell the tale that Elphaba is a "victim" of a bad childhood. She was born on a night when her father, a priest for the Unnamed God, is keeping his parishoners in Munchkinland from worshipping a tic-toc dragon that tells the future. But the dragon tells of a priest who's "harlot" of a wife gives birth to evil and the parishoners hunt him down to keep the prediction from coming true. On the lam he has some midwives hide his wife as she gives birth. But Elphaba is born, with strange green skin and sharp teeth and seems to have intelligence behind those infant eyes. She remains to be a mysterious child until her sister, Nessarose is born.
Then we jump to Elphaba going to college at Shiz. She is forced to room with Glinda. Glinda is much worse for the wear on this one in that it will ruin her possibilities of being popular because she hangs around the green-skinned girl. During their stay at Shiz, Glinda is told by Madame Morrible, the headmaster of the Girl's college that Glinda would do well to study sorcery. Meanwhile Elphaba is taken in on the fight for Animal rights. Keep in mind that Animals are not animals. Animals have intelligence and can talk, while animals are simply beasts. So while the well know Cowardly Lion is a Lion and not a lion. Tu compre?
Back to the story....the instructor that gets Elphaba on the track of Animal rights is Dr. Dillamond, a Goat who teaches life sciences. The wizard has recently passed a law that all Animals will be sent back into the fields and is working toward downgrading Animals to animals regardless of their intelligence. Dr. Dillamond is murdered and Glinda's Ama (a type of nanny) seems to have witnessed the murder but soon loses her mind mysteriously. So Elphaba's Nanny comes to take the Ama's place and brings Elphaba's sister Nessarose, since she'll be coming to Shiz as a student in the next year anyway. Oh and Nessarose is not free from being odd, Nessarose was born without arms. During this time Elphaba's and Nessarose's father sends Nessarose a gift, Ruby Slippers. Elphaba becomes jealous of the slippers, but knows that Nessarose is helpless with no arms.
Madame Morrible tries to recruit Glinda, Elphaba and Nessarose into some sort of secret service that seems to be on the side of the Wizard and his government. Elphaba will have nothing to do with this and she and Glinda sneak off to see the Wizard and find some answers. When they are supposed to return to Shiz, Elphaba stays behind.
The book then jumps about 7 years and Elphaba is in the underground fighting against the Wizard. The story then goes on to explain how Elphaba came to living in the west in the castle, Glinda in the north and Nessarose in the east, in such epic detail that creates not a "new" version of Oz but an explanation of how things are misunderstood.
This book took me completely by surprise, I was prepared for a fun story, instead I got a great novel that provided many intelligent philosophical points of good versus evil.
I should close in saying that, yes, this is the same book that influenced the smash Broadway Play of the same name. So now, i'm hoping to win the lottery so I can go see the production. If I don't ever win the lottery well then I'm hoping someone at least releases a dvd of the production.