After reading Christina Henry’s THE GIRL IN RED (EBR Review), I couldn’t wait to find out what other tales she’d been telling that I didn’t yet know about. That first one was a brilliant take on the simple tale of Red Riding Hood, and I was hoping to find more of the same in this one, which is obviously pointed at the classic tale Alice in Wonderland. There have been enough versions of both these tales told that it might seem as if we really don’t need another. One of the great things about storytelling though is that even if the ideas and plots are pillars of stability in our minds, a new tale can still be just as invigorating and fun to read as if everything were brand new. And these stories? They’re pretty new. There’s enough of both the familiar and the new that they end up being really great reads. But here I am getting ahead of myself a bit.
ALICE (Amazon) is the first in the Chronicles of Alice series and a great place to get to know the author’s works. Indeed, it doesn’t take long at all once you begin reading these pages to understand just how dark and twisted the mind of this author likes to be.
This tale begins long after the fallout of Alice’s return from her first trip into this alternate world that has left some serious emotional and psychological scars on her. Alice has been locked up in an asylum for the last ten years. It’s hard for her to remember much of the present, let alone her horrific past, with all of the drugs that they’ve been feeding her. All she knows is her room, the orderlies, the moon outside her window, and the friendly man on the other side of the wall that says his name is Hatcher. One night, a fire breaks out in the building and instead of being burnt to death inside this prison, Hatcher comes to her rescue. Hatcher is older. He’s big and mean, and he means business. He kills a few of the guards and breaks them out of the building, escaping across the polluted river that runs near the asylum.
Alice grew up in the New City where everything is clean and happy. But she can’t go there. No. They’ll be looking for her there, and anyways Hatcher says he knows someone in the Old City that can help them. As they rush from the river, something dark and massive erupts from the burning wreckage of the asylum and fades into the night sky. Hatcher has a fit, and tells her that it is the Jabberwock and he has been dreading its release all this time that they’ve been locked up in the asylum. Alice, despite feeling like she knows this man, finds out that so very little of what she knows of him is actual truth. And there are horrors and dangers aplenty spread throughout the Old City. Some that we think we know, and others that we do not. But one thing is certain: Alice will not emerge from them unscathed.
Christina Henry has a great writing style. It’s one of those that lets you forget the words and just enjoy the story. It’s transparent, yeah? Her descriptions and portrayal of Alice’s character are strong and well-built. The tone of the story is brought in early and it’s heavy. Reminded me at times of the old-school computer game, American McGee’s Alice, if you remember that one. Creepy as all get-out, violent, and bloody, and twisted and everything in-between. The dark and foreboding pressure she builds was present for the very large majority of the novel was probably one aspect that, at times, made it somewhat difficult to read. It just didn’t let up, and so in a way that tone was incredibly effective as well.
Similar in nature to the original tale, Alice and Hatcher almost seem to wander from place to place, though they do have some general idea of where they want to go. In turn, they visit a large majority of the characters of the tale with which we are familiar. This being a tale of the real world, however, the characters of interest end up playing crime bosses of various portions of the city. At times Hatcher leads them through by his intuition, and at others they are led by a single path, but always they proceed onto the next stage of the play. The Rabbit is portrayed as the principal villain, although at times the Jabberwock rears its head, and the story slowly approaches convergence with both as it continues. Even though the Jabberwock was the most powerful danger to the people of the Old City, and Alice had been told that only she could deal with it, the Rabbit has had more of a personal impact on her as an individual. Horrifically so. All of these pieces are slowly devolved to us as Alice rises out of her drug-induced funk and comes to realize just who she is. This memory recollection sometimes felt well-done and at other times somewhat random and/or forced.
A dark and morbid spin-off of Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland, this ALICE tells the tale that came afterward and does a pretty good job indeed.
The weakest aspects of the novel for me were the eventual reveal of magic in this world, and the way that the original story almost seemed to keep this one contained within a box of its own making. Unlike The Girl in Red, where I felt the new story took what had already been established and then launched off in its own direction, this one felt almost like the story needed to hit a certain number of set-pieces and so never really became something *more* than it might have otherwise been. A good story, yes, just not as much of one as I had hoped for.
In the end, I feel like the read was completely worthwhile and I’m fully ready to dive into the next book, RED QUEEN, in anticipation of the novella collection, LOOKING GLASS, that is soon to be released. I love finding a new author to read and am totally planning on keeping this one on my reading list. She’s already beginning to populate the bookshelves at my house. You should make her part of your library as well.
- Recommended Age: 18+
- Language: Very little
- Violence: Lotta bloody, grisly violence
- Sex: Lots of content but no POV involvement, mixed with violence