Author: Christina Henry
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review By: Shana
This is a dark "sequel" and, to some extent, re-imagining of the Alice books. Which is saying something since Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and especially Through the Looking Glass are already rather dark to begin with. In this first book of Christina Henry's series, Alice is committed to an asylum and has been resident there for ten years. We learn that the asylum is in the Old City and that Alice was originally from the wealthy and much safer New City. Within the first few pages the reader will realize this is no children's book.
Some level of neglect and mundane physical abuse (pinches, cold water) by the asylum staff are revealed, inmates are drugged and controlled, and visitors come but rarely. Through hints and flashbacks, we know that Alice was committed after mentioning one too many times an encounter with a rabbit. But unlike in the original books, here the glimpses into the events that led to Alice's commitment are no mere tea party, but a rape and other violence.
Over her decade in the asylum Alice has made a single friend, Hatcher, known only to her through a small mouse hole in the wall, seeing him in bits and pieces (an eye here, a beard there). Then one night a fire engulfs the asylum, giving Alice and Hatcher the ability to escape. But according to Hatcher, they are not the only ones who escape, as he feels a malevolent and hungry force he calls the Jabberwock.
Both Alice and Hatcher have gaping holes in their memories and are damaged people. And the Old City to which they escape is no haven, instead it is parceled out and controlled by various strongmen. Mafia-like, each section is patrolled by the henchmen or soldiers of each big man, there are turf wars, and all manner of unspeakable acts are perpetrated. Violence is typical, sexual slavery abounds, and the perversions are as discombobulating as the original Alice book, only R-rated instead of PG.
Alice and Hatcher have a calling to stop the Jabberwock before he can subjugate Old City. As they move through this world the subtle allusions to and outright re-working of the original books are utilized adroitly in ways both beautiful and terrible to behold. Cheshire, Caterpillar, Carpenter, Rabbit, and Walrus all have their roles.
And there is an unflinching attention to the precarious role women are forced to inhabit, where they are seen as objects to be owned rather than the drivers of their own stories. So the gradual transformation of Alice from fragile and frightened asylum inmate to strong and powerful heroine is all the more invigorating. This is a story about power and ownership, cruelty and morality, revenge and self-realization. And in the end, the scariest thing of all is a woman with power.
My love of reading was sparked in 3rd grade by the promise of personal pan pizzas via the BOOK IT! Program. Hmmmm... any chance that someone might give adults free food for reading? Asking for a friend...