Alice in Wonderland has spawned many re-tellings. And why wouldn’t it? It’s a great story that sparks everyone’s imagination. Many like to put a much darker spin on the story. Such is the case with Christina Henry’s novel “Alice.”
The book follows Alice, a woman taken from a happy, privileged life and forced into an asylum. There she meets Hatcher, an unstable man that murdered some people with an axe. At first, neither of them remember much of the events before their imprisonment. Alice simple remembers being harmed by a man called the Rabbit. However, the details are a blur to her. Hatcher, on the other hand, lives in constant fear of the so-called “Jabberwocky.”
A fire in the Asylum gives them both a chance to escape, and they do. But life outside is far from easy. Soon Alice finds out the jabberwocky is real, and she and Hatcher have to stop it somehow. They also have to put together the pieces of their pasts. Including finding out Alice’s history with the Rabbit.
That’s the basic run of the plot. Instead of the wonderland full of weird and fantastical creatures we get the Old City – a place full of sex trafficking, violence, poverty and general misery. But don’t worry, some magical elements are definitely thrown in along the way. We’re not giving much information about the world outside the Old City and the New City (the privileged, wealthy city where Alice formally lived, basically the opposite of the Old City). Both places are heavily guarded by soldiers so no one can leave.
The world Henry has built is fascinating but there’s a major problem – it doesn’t feel complete. Despite all the gruesome and interesting ideas, it doesn’t really come together as a whole. The original Alice in Wonderland has random image after random image but it still managed to feel complete.
Overall, the book just feels disorganized and eventually builds up to a pretty disappointing conclusion. Villains like “The Walrus”, “The Rabbit” and the Jabberwocky are built up as these monstrous individuals but when we actually meet them they’re quickly dispatched. Confrontation with them is too quick, essentially, this also adds to the book not really feeling like a coherent piece. I wanted more interaction with these villains, and I didn’t really get it.
Sex trafficking is a major issue in the Old City, and this also adds to another of the books flaws. All the women are defined by being victims or their potential to be victims. I would have liked to see some more strong female characters (judging by the synopsis of the upcoming sequel we might get that in the next book.) besides Alice have a major role, and fight all the crap in the Old City. We meet a couple cool women, but their roles aren’t really major.
This might seem like a negative review so far but I actually enjoyed reading the book. One positive is Alice and Hatcher’s relationship – it was just right. Hints of romance are giving now and again but it’s not really forced onto the reader. Their relationship is more of a really intense friendship, it’s complex and beautiful and I like that. There’s also some really cool/horrific scenes in the book.
In the end, it’s well worth the read.
Although I would have suggested a different title as well. Just “Alice” doesn’t really seem to do it justice.