Alice by Christina Henry

alice“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.”

I appear to be one of the few people who felt that this book was merely so-so.  I had to think about it for a bit to pin down why, and I’m still not entirely sure that the answer isn’t simply “This book wasn’t for me”.  However, I have a few points that I’d like to touch on that I felt contributed to making this novel a less-than-stellar read.

First of all, there’s no getting around the fact that this book contains a veritable fiesta of sexual abuse.  Other than Alice’s partner in crime, Hatcher, I can really only think of one male character (not even a major one, just a simple male character) who doesn’t view women as a commodity, or something to be used, or something to possess.  The prevailing portrayal of women is as victims, even when they exhibit some strengths–they still seem to be defined by what men inflict on them.  Even Alice, our main character and heroine, spends much of the novel defining herself by her experience at the hands of the Rabbit.

The next thing I noticed was that this story bears very little resemblance to the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  It’s not a retelling, not a reboot, and not a sequel.  At most, it takes inspiration from the Carroll’s novel and spirals off from there.  Much as Alice is supposed to be mad, the world we find her is one that has run crazy, but on misplaced power and greed.  About the only parallels you’ll find that are familiar are the names of characters: the Rabbit, the Caterpillar, Dor (who is mousy), etc.  I realize that the source novel was mostly a series of vignettes forming a loose commentary on British society, but here, the attempt to form a narrative and still maintain that wild weirdness just doesn’t mesh.

This means that there’s not much plot–it’s mostly Alice and Hatcher trying to remember their pasts and kill just about everyone who gets in their way.  It’s a slasher version of Wonderland, twisted and dark.  It’s both a plus and a minus that you can’t really tell if everything is happening in Alice’s imagination–or her madness.  I think that, as a reader, you have to ask yourself that question and form your own opinion.  The villains are stylized to the point that they may just be avatars of Alice’s demons, but there’s no way to know for sure.

All that said, the language is extremely detailed and visually oriented–not always pleasant when you realize how much murder and rape happens here.  If Henry was going for “disturbing” as the novel’s takeaway, she succeeded beautifully.  And maybe that’s why I didn’t like it as much.  I’m not one for gratuitous gore, and I never have been.  I understand that some books are violent, but I don’t seek out such stories.

I had a little fun watching the various Wonderland-based characters show up and seeing how the author would translate them into this setting.  There were some clever bits with these people, although I do wonder where the Red Queen is in all this.  Apparently this novel will have a sequel, so maybe she’ll show up next time.

I didn’t especially like or dislike this novel.  I can see how it would appeal to a lot of people, but I’m just not one of them.  There are no real flaws to speak of–simply me getting something other than what I expected and not really feeling that the story was one that I would have otherwise sought out.  I’d recommend this book more for horror fans than those of fantasy or children’s literature.  Goodness knows, this certainly isn’t a children’s book.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&

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