James Maxey's Bad Wizard asked me to review his new book, I was open to it, but not entirely sure it would bring anything new to the table.
The best way to think of Bad Wizard is akin to "Elseworlds" or "What If?", just instead of comics, it's the Oz books. Everything that happened in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is canon, and there are a number of references and scenarios inspired by the later books (particularly The Marvelous Land of Oz). Thus, anyone unfamiliar with those doesn't need to worry, while those who are can keep an eye out for Easter Eggs, if they can stand another reimagining.
Oscar Diggs, the new secretary of War for the United States, is a mysterious man indeed. The only one who seems to know what's going on is Dorothy Gale, journalist for The Kansas Ear. She mysteriously vanishes from place to place, collecting impossible information on Diggs that he keeps having to silence.
Now working for Diggs is Esau Benjou, a devoutly Christian man who helps his mother's ministry, whose sole reason for helping Diggs is the much-needed income for his family. Esau is quite familiar with mechanics, and it so happens that Diggs is building airships for the means of war. That's right, the Wizard of Oz is behind the development of zeppelins.
What does Diggs have in mind? He means to return to a mysterious land he believes is in the sky. A land that he and Dorothy only know of: Oz. And he means to rule it again, by force, if need be.
Nearly the first two thirds of the book are spent getting the characters together and finally bringing them to Oz. As often happens, when one is promised Oz but spends a lot of time in Kansas, the Kansas chapters feel rather dull. Not that a lot of exciting things don't happen in Kansas, but Oz is where the real adventure starts. (And for a tease, Ozma is in this book!)
A lot of lore about Oz is revealed. First is the ideas that Diggs has about Oz. Some of them might be right in Maxey's take on Baum's land, some don't appear to be correct. Then Dorothy learns new things about Oz from its inhabitants, including some surprising origins for the witches. There may be enough to go on for another book about Oz if Maxey so chooses.
Maxey's writing style is rather nice. I only felt a little bored during the Kansas chapters because I wanted Oz, not because it was badly written. The story flows pretty nicely, often taking the Baum-like approach of switching between plots with each chapter.
Despite being an Oz reimagining for adults, Maxey doesn't use a lot of profanity and crude suggestions. There are suggestions of sex (Dorothy is onboard a zeppelin and Diggs tells her that she shouldn't go out to the crew because they're men who've only been around men lately...), characters smoke and drink, and there is a lot of death. (Maxey makes it clear that people only die in Oz due to violent deaths.)
Overall, if you're interested in alternate versions of Oz, I'd recommend this one.