Fascination with the magical land of Oz created by L. Frank Baum in the early 1900s is alive and well in the swift-selling Dorothy Must Die (HarperCollins) series by debut author Danielle Paige. But readers won’t see Paige’s characters skipping happily down a yellow brick road; they inhabit a much more sinister version of the Emerald City. And according to Tara Weikum, v-p, editorial director at HarperCollins Children’s Books, and editor for the series, that’s an essential element of the books’ appeal. “Everyone knows and loves the story of sweet Dorothy Gale and her ragtag group of friends,” she says, “but it’s always exciting to find out that there was more to the story of beloved characters who might just have a bit of wicked in them after all.”

Paige’s deal for three books and three digital novellas was announced in fall 2013, just prior to the November release that year of the digital novella No Place Like Oz (HarperCollins). Laying the groundwork for the first print novel, the prequel follows Dorothy on a return trip to Oz from her Kansas home hoping to recapture the adventure and excitement of her first visit. On April 1, 2014, Dorothy Must Die hit shelves with a first printing of 125,000 copies; it introduced teen heroine Amy Gumm, who is transported – via tornado, of course – from her tough home life in Kansas to Oz, a place she never imagined was real. However, when Amy arrives she finds that Dorothy is a dictatorial ruler in a dark and ugly Oz, and the teen is quickly recruited by a rebel organization to kill Dorothy and take Scarecrow’s brain, Tin Woodsman’s heart, and Lion’s courage in the process.

Out of the gate, the book sales soared. Both the paperback reprint of Dorothy Must Die and its hardcover sequel The Wicked Will Rise (250,000-copy first printing) were released last month and are already appearing on bestseller lists . Harper rounded out the series thus far with additional March releases: digital novella number three, The Wizard Returns; a paperback bind-up of all three novellas entitled Dorothy Must Die Stories, and an e-book volume, Dorothy Must Die: The Other Side of the Rainbow Collection, which contains the three novellas and two novels. To date, combined sales for the Dorothy Must Die titles, in all formats, have topped 400,000 copies.

Harper created both print and digital campaigns for the titles, with highlights that included a Playbill ad that ran during the on-sale months of both books and during summer 2014 at NYC performances of the Broadway show Wicked, adapted from Gregory Maguire’s novel that reimagined Oz and its witches; extensive sampling during book festivals and conventions; and content on EpicReads.com and YouTube.

Inspired by the enthusiasm for the series, HarperCollins and Paige are expanding its original scope to include a total of four novels and nine novellas. The fourth novella, Heart of Tin, is due in July 2015 with a fifth to follow in November.