My Initial Reaction...
Death of a Mad Hatter surprised me! I'm not a big Wonderland fan, but I was told that I just HAD to read it and I'm really glad I did. The characters were fantastic and Wonderland had just enough to entertain without overwhelming those of us who aren't die hard Wonderland fans.
I can't express how much I loved Alice Mae, sometimes called Al so that she would be a girl with a boy's name. See there's this prophecy and part of it had to be fulfilled by a girl with a boy's name and ta-da, Alice Mae gets renamed. She's a really great character - very multifaceted. When I first met her I thought, "man, this girl's nuts" but I quickly grew to like her quirky personality. Quirky's the word too - see that cover? That's Alice Mae - you see some weirdness and some fierceness all bundled up in that picture and it totally nails her. The story is told only half from her point of view, but I loved getting to see how she got into her current situation and the marvelous way that she's so conflicted and confused about things. And with that prophecy you totally understand why... I'd be messed up too.
The other half is told from the point of view of Ryley - the boy with a girl's name. And yep, that's significant too. And yes, because of a prophecy. Prophecies play a big part in Death of the Mad Hatter, but in a marvelous, you want to figure out what's going to happen way, not in a man that prophecy is annoying way (you've read those books too, right? not just me?). Anyway, Ryley was an okay character. He was well-written, but seriously got on my nerves. He's so all over the place with his feelings and the way he acted toward several of the girls - including Alice Mae - really annoyed me because it was just WRONG. Sometimes the reasons worked for me, but most the time it made him just not very likeable (for me). And yet, I found myself totally swept away with his and Alice Mae's relationship - I WANTED them together, I liked them as a couple and I liked him better when he wasn't fighting his feelings for her.
I think for any fairy tale retelling you're looking for the ways that the author took the original story and made it their own. In a fairy tale retelling I expect:
1. References to the original the make me go, "Oh! I recognize that!" and maybe get a little giddy
2. Details that a die-hard fan of the original will appreciate, but won't bog down someone who just vaguely knows the story
3. Inventive reinterpretation through a totally original story and characters
Let me start with #3 - because with a retelling it seems that's the hardest to achieve. Death of the Mad Hatter totally did that for me. With the exception of some really key, gotta have 'em elements, this was totally original. You did not go into this story knowing what to expect. I didn't know what to expect ever quite frankly - I was always guessing.
#2 - I honestly can't say for sure on this one because I'm not a die hard fan, and yet I feel like some elements were familiar and yet I didn't have a clue what they referred to. So I'm guessing those are the elements a die-hard would get giddy over. But I can say, I was never ever bogged down. I never felt like not knowing Wonderland really well was a handicap, because this world worked on it's own without any necessary love for or knowledge of Wonderland.
#1 - It totally had the Mad Hatter (duh!), Red Queen, Playing Cards, White Rabbit, etc. It was all there and yet they were fresh and new.
So yeah - I loved this retelling and definitely recommend it. I also have to say - without spoiling - that I loved this ending. It was a really good fit for Wonderland. And I'll leave it at that!