Ｒａｔｉｎｇ：★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
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.
✩ Alice was very compassionate and brave.
✩ Hatcher was fierce and caring in his own way as well. He was very loyal.
❝ That was the trouble with not being right in the head. You couldn’t always tell if your eyes were telling the truth. ❞
Christina Henry impressed me when I read her dark twist on Peter Pan in her novel Lost Boy and naturally, I was curious about her other work. So I decided to start with her first series which is a dark fantasy retelling inspired by Alice in Wonderland which made me love her writing even more!
Our main character, of course, is Alice, a young woman confined to a mental ward after a traumatic childhood has apparently left her mad. She lives in fear that the Rabbit will come back for her—and even though her memories of that encounter are fractured she knows to be afraid. Her only friend, Hatcher, might just be madder than Alice but together they are forced to discover the darker secrets of the city they call home.
As a fan of retellings I can fully recognize how overdone some topics are—Alice in Wonderland being one of them—but what sets this retelling apart is not only the rich fantasy elements but the darker elements of humanity it explores.
It’s also why I’d like to issue a trigger warning because the book does deal with rape, kidnapping, slavery, and abuse of women. In the city, there’s nothing more dangerous than being a woman. Alice learns that fast and realizes that the only person she can rely on is herself.
Alice’s world is turned upside down when she discovers that Hatcher’s fears may not be totally unfounded and maybe his mad ramblings were not so mad after all. She and Hatcher find themselves now having to save the city from the fearsome Jabberwock, a powerful and evil magician that has been turned loose and wants to see humans destroyed.
❝ You’re only a mouse if you let them make you one. ❞
Her journey to the old city uncovers the reality that the magicians that were supposed to be banned long ago not only still exist, but thrive here. With their powers, they have become terrifying crime lords that target women for their own purposes (and in unique and horrifying ways). And with every step of the journey Alice discovers more about her past with the Rabbit and about herself.
I loved the dark fantasy elements found in the book. It touched on some very dark topics that shocked me, but as a horror fan it was perfect for me. The criminal element added another layer to the story besides just eliminating the Jabberwock, and were like trials for Alice, which tested her inner strength and character—and ultimately led her to face the biggest foe.
Hatcher was also a thoroughly interesting character. His penchant for violence and fierce protectiveness of Alice made him powerful and likable. What was interesting was that he could be the fighter one moment, and others he could lose himself in madness. His unstable nature pushed Alice to rely on herself and more often than not she had to be the voice of reason and look out for both of them.
And although Hatcher wasn’t a terrible person, his world only really encompassed him and Alice. He was a survivor but his decisions were made in the best interest of Alice, whereas Alice had a greater range of compassion and sense of responsibility to the innocent. She was Hatcher’s moral compass.
Alice and Hatcher’s relationship was definitely a big plus for this book. Each of them had something to teach the other and it made the story interesting to see how they played on each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Overall this was a gripping dark fantasy that kept me hooked throughout and I can’t wait to see where the story goes in book two!
Have you seen the new Alice in Wonderland? Did you like it? (I’ve only seen the old Disney one lol)