I like Gregory Maguire. While I didn't find this one quite as enjoyable as Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (which I reviewed here), Maguire has a style I can't help but love. He's got a crazy imagination and with it he creates worlds that are dark, bizarre, hilarious and intriguing. He's found a niche in taking minor characters from popular fairy tales and telling their 'true' stories, in a deliciously gothic, dark fashion.
Wicked tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. He sets the story in an Oz that is dangerous and corrupt, sunk in political intrigue, racism and religious conflict. This isn't the land of the happy little Munchkins and the harmless creatures. In Maguire's Oz, just about everything is ready to kill you.
Elphaba, who will become the Witch, is born green and immediately labeled a freak of nature in Munchkinland. She grows up to be fiercely independent and reserved; deeply suspicious and mistrusting of the world around her. And with good reason. She goes to Shiz University, where she meets vapid Galinda (later to be Glinda the Good) and gets into all sorts of trouble and intrigue. The plot is fairly complicated in the first half, but the book is kept afloat thanks to some great supporting characters and Maguire's sense of humor.
Unfortunately, though, the second half doesn't hold up very well. Once Elphaba leaves Shiz and becomes a revolutionary fighting against the tyranical Wizard of Oz, the book badly loses momentum. On her own, without any other characters to play against, Elphaba is too paranoid, too mysterious. Maguire tangles the plot so much that it's almost impossible to know what's going on sometimes, and without the sense of humor provided by the supporting characters, the book becomes far too dark and depressing. I can see why many people get completely turned off at this point; it's hard to keep going to the ending we all know. The book definitely loses its way in the second half, and though the writing is still pretty impressive, the plot falls apart. A lot is left unanswered, which is yet another problem. Things might be resolved in the sequels Maguire has written, but if you didn't like Wicked, what will induce you to read the next books?
On the whole, though, I was glad I re-read this. Some of it made a lot more sense than it did on my first read, when I just couldn't get what Maguire was trying to do. It's clearer on a second read, though still confusing. But I like the Oz Maguire has created, his characters are well done and he works in many different themes, mostly quite well. I like what he does and want to read more of his books. Wicked might not be the best he's done, but it's still a remarkable read.