Alice by Christina Henry
Published by Ace
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Horror, Retelling
For Fans of: Alice in Wonderland (the original and the Tim Burton movie), Fairy tale retellings, creepy, gothic horrors.
My rating: 4 stars out of 5.
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.
TRIGGER WARNING: THIS BOOK CONTAINS A LOT OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE
Want to have your childhood ruined? Well, this is the book for you! (I mean this in the best way possible)
I have a complicated relationship with retellings. I always want to love them, but more often than not, end up feeling severely disappointed because I hold the original tales at such a high standard (see: The Lunar Chronicles) Like Beauty and The Beast and Red Riding Hood, Alice in Wonderland happens to be one of my favorites, so it was no wonder that I was a little skeptical going into this one.
It turns out that I didn’t need to be so worried, because I freaking loved this. Alice doesn’t take place in the Wonderland we all know and love, but in a gothic-fantasy town called Old City, where Magicians once roamed free, and is now run by many underworld bosses and their respective gangs. The characters in this story aren’t the ones we know and love either. Alice is now a twenty-six year old woman who, after disappearing when she was sixteen, reappeared later, with “blood dripping down her thighs”, missing memories, hysterically raving about a “Rabbit”. Upon her reappearance, she was deemed mad, and locked up in an asylum in the Old City, away from her parents and her home back in the New City.
She eventually finds a friend and maybe-lover in crazed ax-murderer in the cell next to hers – a mad, yet kind, man named Hatcher.
The story starts with the night a fire breaks out in the asylum, giving Alice and Hatcher a chance to escape their prison and, perhaps, their years of suffering. But they’re not the only ones to escape. Something dark and evil is set free that night, something that has an inexplicable tie to Hatcher; The Jabberwock.
The Jabberwock is bad news, and his escape means complete destruction. Alice and Hatcher are the only ones who can stop it. Their quest to find the only weapon that can defeat the Jabberwock leads Alice and Hatcher into the lairs of familiar, but completely recrafted characters. Namely, Cheshire, The Walrus, The Caterpillar, and The Rabbit; the bosses who run Old City.
If you’re the kind of person who likes their retellings to stay as close to the original story as possible, then stay away from this book. Henry has used the foundations of the original story to create something completely new. The characters and the ideas may be familiar, but do not be fooled – this is not the same story. And as someone who actually prefers it when retellings deviate from the original story, I appreciated the heck out of this.
The reason why it didn’t get a five star rating from me, surprisingly enough, wasn’t the rape-y-ness. It was the ending.
Let me explain.
Rape and sexual violence bother me – in real life as well as in fiction. It’s terrifying, and even reading about it in fiction makes me want to crawl out of my skin. That being said, it wasn’t a deal breaker for me with this book, because I understood the point of it. Sure, this book would have been as gory and as dark without a lot of the sexual violence – but then its villains would have been nowhere near as terrifying=. Because that’s the thing about the villains in this book – it’s not their magic or their power that makes them monstrous, it’s their dirtiest, vilest, human qualities. They snatch girls up from their homes, murdering interfering family members if they have to, all so that they can use them and sell their bodies. Forget evil magicians – this is the stuff of nightmares.
If you took away the magical elements, everything that happened to Alice was something that could have happened in our world. And that’s what makes this so powerful.
So, no. I didn’t remove a star because I couldn’t stomach the nightmares in this book. I removed a star because the ending was anticlimactic, and the encounters with the bosses were all a little too rushed for my taste. I was happy that the tale didn’t end the way I expected, but the conclusion fell flat after the epic buildup, and the pacing towards the end of the book was much too fast.
Which is a shame, because this was such a creepy little book, and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. Give it a try, if you can stomach the darkness.