Author: Christina Henry
Pages: 304 (paperback)
Selected By: Elle Tea
“The land outside of the Old City was supposed to be green, lush, and hopeful. A place where Alice could finally rest, no longer the plaything of the Rabbit, the pawn of Cheshire, or the prey of the Jabberwocky. But the verdant fields are nothing but ash – and hope is nowhere to be found.
“Still, Alice and Hatcher are on a mission to find his daughter, a quest they will not forsake, even as it takes them deep into the clutches of the mad White Queen and her goblin or into the realm of the twisted and cruel Black King.
“The pieces are set and the game has already begun. Each move brings Alice closer to her destiny. But to win she will need to harness her newfound abilities and ally herself with someone even more powerful – the mysterious and vengeful Red Queen…”
Elle Tea’s Review
This is one of the moments I wish we had a half-cup system here at Gigglemug, as I liked Alice enough for two teacups (i.e., “It was OK”), but Red Queen was really a one-and-a-half cup read for me (i.e., bordering on not liking it). I’ve really no idea why the two books that make up this series are tied into Alice in Wonderland at all. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have read either of these had the whole Carroll-Alice parallel never been made to begin with, but had I read them anyway, I’d probably have liked them a little better had they just been about a mad girl named Alice (who wasn’t That Alice) who turns out to be stark raving sane in a mad but magical world.
As with Alice, this second and final installment of Henry’s Chronicles of Alice has very little to actually do with the classic Alice tales; however, this particular book has even less to do with its hinted-at namesake than even its predecessor. The trials of Alice across the chessboard of the Looking-Glass world as she makes her way towards a crown of her own under the guidance of (and often despite of) the Red and White Queens and their respective Kings are essentially nonexistent, as are any and all of the characters known from that book.
Above all, we hope not to die in terror.
What we have instead is a sort of fairy tale romance, complete with a wicked witch-type villain, a hero under a curse, and the world’s luckiest-unlucky heroine. Gone are the grit and gangs, the violence and rape of Alice‘s Old City. And while I wasn’t thrilled with the direction the first book took while presenting itself as a twisted spin on the classic Alice tale, I was even less thrilled by the contents of this one. Alice begins her second adventure wandering through a forest, chasing her beloved Hatcher’s memory of a child he barely knew, pausing only to explore a mysterious village. When Hatcher ditches our heroine for magical and mysterious reasons, we spend more time wandering said forest with no one but Alice for company, sleeping in branches and traveling on the shoulder of a giant before being deposited at the doorstep of a mysterious cottage. And then we blah blah blah, mope mope mope, wander wander blah for a while, until around the halfway mark when Alice finally reaches a village full of sad Norse-types who basically say, “No, we don’t trust you, you lying outsider. Well, okay, she trusts you, but we don’t. Well, okay, this old woman says you’re magical, so we guess you should know that we sacrifice one child every full moon to appease our godlike magical landlady, and we’re really put-out about having to do that, but there’s not a lot we can do about it, since we’re surrounded by all that boring blah blah blah damned forest, so if you’d go fetch ’em all home or see what’s going on up on that witch’s mountain, that’d be swell. Blah dee blah.”
So, finally, around the 60% mark, Alice begins her adventure to save the children and hopefully stumble across the still absent object of her affections.
Something about bare feet always seemed so vulnerable to Alice, as if the world could hurt you more when you did not have shoes.
For some unexplained reason that may best be summed up as “huh, funny old thing, magic,” the mental link with Cheshire which she so successfully severed in Alice is abruptly reestablished. Equally convoluted and unnecessary was the murky tangle of the two sisters, the Red Queen and the White, and the role the Black King plays in all of this family drama. The surprise reveal of the true identity of one of the queens combined with the equally unsurprising reveal of the true identity of the Black King and his motivations, as well as Alice’s knack of finding just the right weapon at just the right moment every.single.time all immediately brought to mind the old soap operas my mother used to watch when I was growing up. In particular, I remember a soap opera involving a character named Vicki, who is believed to be dead, who suddenly reappears and proclaims that she is actually Vicki’s mysterious and long-lost identical twin sister, Nicki… who, I believe, it is later determined is actually just one of the many multiple personalities of Vicki herself. Or something like that – I don’t know, I was a kid and preferred Voltron and Thundercats at the time. Regardless, the whole Red Queen-White Queen-Black King arc has the very high-drama, minimal logic sense of soap operas.
And just when characters begin to get interesting, they die. Villains whom Alice worries and frets over for pages and pages and pages are vanquished with a thought, on a whim, and occasionally with barely a finger even being raised. Villains for whom elaborate backstories were hinted simply spill their guts when confronted, then, of course, they just slink off the pages only to be found dead later. Companions with interesting tales of misfortune, curses, and eternal life disappear with a boom only to reappear as visitors from the spirit world before disappearing again forever. And mysteries that carried over from the previous installment are thrown in as a twist that just doesn’t quite…
Just doesn’t quite. At all.
In summary, Red Queen is the longest short book I’ve read in quite a while. I found its first 60% to be an uphill slog and its last 40% to be a misguided tumble downhill with an unsatisfying, “And they’ll be okay, ’cause she foresaw they would,” ending. If you’re interested in reading the works of Christina Henry or if you’re just looking for a strange twist on a classic childhood fantasy story, I heartily recommend Lost Boy, which gives a meaningful and believable origin to Peter Pan and Captain James Hook’s eternal feud while remaining familiar and true to its classic source.
Elle Tea read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.