by Christina Henry
Series: The Chronicles of Alice #1
Published on August 4, 2015 by Ace
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
A mind-bending new novel inspired by the twisted and wondrous works of Lewis Carroll...
In a warren of crumbling buildings and desperate people called the Old City, there stands a hospital with cinderblock walls which echo the screams of the poor souls inside.
In the hospital, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place. Just a tea party long ago, and long ears, and blood…
Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape, tumbling out of the hole that imprisoned her, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago.
Only something else has escaped with her. Something dark. Something powerful.
And to find the truth, she will have to track this beast to the very heart of the Old City, where the rabbit waits for his Alice.
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Oh Alice, dear, where have you been?
You don’t seem to know yourself. A shame. For your thoughts are jumbled and you are positively mad. Truly. Just ask your Hatcher there on the other side of the wall of your cell. Yes, this twisted re-telling of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland begins with the insane, locked away where no one need ever look on them again. And poor Alice is a resident herself of ten years after an unfortunate incident when she was sixteen, leaving a scar down her face and few memories to cling to. But beneath the hospital lingers a being of shadow and blood, the Jabberwock, and it’s time he was freed.
I’m a sucker for Alice re-tellings. It’s one of my favorite classics and there’s so much you can do with the world of Wonderland. The place itself is never mentioned in this book, just the New City and the Old. Alice comes from the New but fell quite literally down the rabbit hole in the Old City when the Rabbit decided to keep her as a toy. I didn’t get sucked into this story at first as the world took time to adjust to. The Old City is filled with bosses ruling their neighboring territories. There’s (as you may have guessed already) the Rabbit, Cheshire, the Caterpillar, the Walrus, and Mr. Carpenter. But like Alice, the remaining characters in this book share a few traits from the original images but in the end they are people.
That’s what this re-telling lacked, I think. First, many categorize it as a horror which doesn’t really fit (will get to that), so the story revolves around these gruesome figures that Alice must defeat or get past to continue on her journey to defeat the Jabberwocky — the entire reason she and Hatcher flee the hospital when it begins to burn. The story quickly diverts to the Adventures of Alice and Hatcher where they wanted Old City from one boss to the next to find the thing that can kill the Jabberwocky.
Only to come to an ending that is both unsatisfying and, frankly, anticlimactic.
Now I mentioned horror. It felt like the author was trying to create scenes capable of causing nightmares. Instead, I felt like I was watching from the other side of the window as men died, women were raped, monsters created chaos. There was too much of a disconnect for me to actually care about what happened.
This came through with the characters as well. We have Alice, locked away after disappearing into the Old City ten years prior, not exactly insane but suffering from memory loss. She’s a bit all over the place but otherwise I wouldn’t consider her “Alice” so much as a girl caught in the wrong place. Her companion Hatcher is crazy, pure and simple. Also having issues with his memories (really, what’s up with the whole memory-loss bit because it’s never explained). He has this protective streak around Alice and there’s a weird romance between them… but not. Like Henry attempted it but decided later that it wasn’t working. In the case of both characters, I couldn’t care if they fell victim to Cheshire, or the Walrus, or whoever. They had plenty of personality but it never came through enough to make a solid link between reader and story.
My final comment is on the magic. What “Wonderland” (or whatever you consider the city) is complete without something mystical? This world has Magicians that were all forced away long ago, but magic still exists as a few stuck behind, ruling the city with iron fists. This magic doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason and not even in the nonsensical, Wonderland-esque way. I’m a fantasy girl. I need a solid magic system if you’re going to add it in and I didn’t get that.
This book definitely falls in the realm of fantasy but I wouldn’t consider it horror, or even all that graphic as most of the descriptions are bland, blanket statements. Perhaps the sequel will explain some of the questions I have better but as for this nod to the original story, I wouldn’t consider it a favorite.