Author: Christina Henry
Pages: 304 (paperback)
Selected By: Elle Tea
“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 blonde, 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.”
Elle Tea’s Review
It was okay. I mean… all things considered, this book was just… y’know… meh, it was okay. [Insert noncommittal shrug here.]
Okay, full disclosure: I had expectations. I know, you’d think I’d have learned by now to expect little or nothing, but it’s a character flaw that I clearly can’t help from doing to myself over and over again. I chose Lost Boy for April’s selection and burned through it within the first two days of the month; it was so good, so true to the original and yet new, that when I saw Christina Henry had given my beloved Alice in Wonderland a twisted overhaul, as well, I thought, “Hot diggety damn, let’s get on that action!!!”
“You’re only a mouse if you let them make you one.”
But the reworking of Carroll’s Wonderland and its medley of mad characters just doesn’t work out the same way as Henry’s perspective on the origins of the Hook-Pan feud. I don’t want to tread too far into the weeds of what made Lost Boy so entertaining for me since my review of that novel exists in full on this site, but since reading it first did set Alice up for failure, I’ll point out the one major difference that has the hardest impact on this novel:
The world and characters of Alice are practically unrecognizable.
I was never much of a fan of Barrie’s Peter Pan or his antics, but I, like most people, am familiar enough with the play / story to recognize specific elements that define Barrie’s classic: a rabble of orphans and runaways led by a boy who never grows up and who can fly, an island full of mermaids and fairies (and in some cases, including the original, a tribe of Native Americans represented by a warrior princess), and, of course, the pirates and their hook-handed capitán. In Lost Boy, Henry retained all of the foundation elements but skewed the perspective, with excellent results.
I was and continue to be a huge fan of both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. And, again, like most people, there are certain elements that define those classics (with focus on the first one for the purpose of this review): a little girl finds herself transported to a world that borders between dream and nightmare, an anxiety-ridden rabbit (waistcoat and pocket watch optional), a surly caterpillar, a barking hatter hosting the world’s weirdest and most inconstant social gathering, an indifferent cat with a maniacal grin, and dainty victuals that make one taller or shorter.
In Alice, Henry maintains the proper names of the characters, but other than that… Other than that, for me Alice was like Gail Carriger rewriting the script for the Broadway production of Gangs of New York.
There was comfort in ignorance, in thinking the world a certain way and not knowing any different.
Alice begins promisingly enough, with the titular character having spent about a decade in 19th-century society’s version of an oubliette: the madhouse. But after that, it’s a free-fall into the entirely unfamiliar: Wonderland is nonexistent, replaced by the hierarchical metropolises of the sprawling and wealthy New City and the filthy squalor of Old City; “Rabbit”, “Cheshire”, “Walrus”, “Carpenter”, and “Caterpillar” are the sobriquets used by the human leaders of the Old City’s rival street gangs; Hatter is replaced by Hatcher, an axe-wielding, heartbroken man hell-bent on revenge; the horrible Jabberwocky, with his jaws that bite and claws that catch, is reduced to a human magician who is, let’s be honest, forced into submission remarkably easily for all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that went on over him for the duration of the story; and Alice – a victim of rape, neglect, betrayal, and abuse – is a hardened, untrusting adult with a dash of mojo and a very sharp knife. There’s some magic within these pages, but magic is something that must be possessed, a tool used to dominate others, rather than a wonder; fluffy little creatures are increased in size and forced to fight in arenas, mermaids are captured and forced into prostitution, doors are shrunk down to be only inches high in order to better hide the questionable antics going on behind them…
Now, that’s not to say this was a bad book. Not by any means. But it didn’t seem, to me, like much of a retelling or reworking of the classic; in fact, it has so little in common with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that one wouldn’t even need to have a working knowledge of the original story or its characters to read and appreciate this novel.
To sum this all up, I am dreadfully disappointed with Alice after having read Lost Boy, but you can definitely see the author’s growth as a writer and storyteller in the two years that passed between publication of the former and latter. I was so pleased with Lost Boy that I bought both books in the Chronicles of Alice series, so now I’m off to read the follow-up to this novel: Red Queen. Here’s hoping Henry gives the survivors of Alice as well as the queens of Through the Looking-Glass more razzle-dazzle than the cast of characters in this selection, and, most sincerely of all, I hope the surroundings are at least marginally reminiscent of Carroll’s masterpieces.
Elle Tea read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.