Title: Alice (The Chronicles of Alice #1)
Genre: Fantasy, Adult, Horror, Retellings, Dark, Fiction
Author: Christina Henry
Published by: Ace
Goodreads rating: 3.89 (as of writing)
First of all, I haven’t read Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Still, I have watched movies and read several rendition of the story and it’s one of the classic tales I am very fond of.
I am a sucker for fairy tale/myth retellings so when I discovered this book, I couldn’t shake it out of my head and I knew I just had to read it. So I did.
Trigger Warning: This book contains mentions of rape, child abuse, cannibalism, violence and suicide
Taken from Goodreads:
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.
They both went in, but only Alice came out. Two weeks later came Alice, covered in blood, babbling about tea and a rabbit.
One thing I would like to make clear in case you didn’t notice the warning above:
This book is not for the faint of heart.
It isn’t suitable for kids and extremely sensitive people and it is not for people who could not bear the thought of women (and children) being dependent, abused or used by men.
Because this book contains a lot of it. A LOT.
In the Old City there were very few ways for women to stay alive, and all of them involved a man.
Frankly, I didn’t think the scenes where so horrifying (
except for one scene, and even then it’s just so) or excessively violent but I guess I was just so used to this sort of stuff from playing video games and watching movies of similar nature. But for others who aren’t used to these things, it might get a bit shocking.
“You mean murder and eat,” Alice said.
“No, I mean eat and murder,” the rat said. “I’d rather it the other way around, wouldn’t you?”
“I’d rather it not at all.” Alice said.
This book is filled with sexual themes and all manners of violence told in the point of view of someone who isn’t quite right in the head. The protagonist is a traumatized rape victim and her companion is a madman who is quick to kill people at the slightest provocation. The feel of the story seems hazy and disjointed at first, understandably so in fact, since the story is narrated by Alice and at the start she is still under the influence of drugs which I think the asylum used to keep their patients calm. She becomes more lucid after they escaped the asylum though and it is reflected in how the narration flows. I thought it was a nice touch.
That was the trouble with not being right in the head. You couldn’t always tell if your eyes were telling the truth.
There is actual magic in the book. Not just a “maybe-it’s-a-hallucination” sort like I first thought but actual honest to goodness magic. Apparently, Alice and Hatcher (who I think is referenced from Mad Hatter), weren’t talking nonsense at the start of the book because right after they escaped the asylum, Alice was told that her fate was to defeat the Jabberwocky who was actually sealed beneath the asylum centuries prior and had also managed to escape when the asylum burned down.
Alice didn’t take kindly to that news at first, especially since the task at hand was dangerous and she had just regained her freedom. But Hatcher, who she’s in love with, is connected to the Jabberwocky in some way and wants to be free of his influence. So in the end, Alice had no choice but to come with Hatcher on a quest to defeat the old evil.
Oh, the power of love! It really makes you do crazy things. Like saving the world.
Alright, seriously. That’s what I actually liked about this book; the relationship between Alice and Hatcher, who was at least 10 (or 14?) years older than her. They are both broken people who found comfort in each other despite them being separated by a wall for 10 years, only seeing a small part of the other through a mouse hole.
How could I ever love you properly with a wall between us for all time?
In the beginning, Alice was heavily dependent on Hatcher and she actually resented this fact. I can get that it’s because of her experiences when she was younger. She was a girl who was used to the finer things in life, having lived in the New City and she went through the rebellious phase that teenager often go through. She hung out with the wrong crowd and kept disobeying her parents. Unfortunately for her, the consequences of not listening to her parents’ warnings were very, very severe and it left her subservient, broken both inside and out. And with 10 years of her life wasted in a small cell since she was 16, she never had the chance to grow up into adulthood.
She’d gone seeking an adventure and found terror instead.
But as the story progressed, she steadily recovered her confidence and independence with the help of Hatcher. Sure, it involved him coaching her how to properly kill people, telling her not to believe everything the government says or telling her that they can’t save everyone because it would only slow them down. But hey, when you grow up in a city run by magical and vicious crime lords and crime and violence is rampant to the point of being a normal happening, you have no choice but to think like that. For that, I can’t fault Hatcher.
“Just how many soldiers do you think I can fight on my own?”.
“As many as necessary, I believe in you, Alice.”
Besides, he is actually one of the very few morally upright people in the Old City. Or at least I think there are only few because the only other male characters who seemed “good” was Cheshire, who is one of the crime lords (so he isn’t really all good, just had some principle), and a random side character they met.
Hatcher could have taken advantage of Alice when she was still weak and helpless but he didn’t. Instead he made sure to keep her safe until she was strong enough to stand on her own. He even ends up saving other people when he normally wouldn’t have bothered because Alice wanted to save them.
We can’t save everybody. But we can save somebody.
So yes, when it comes to the main characters and their development, I am definitely satisfied in that department.
The writing is great and easy to follow too, even at the beginning when Alice’s thoughts are befuddled. Some might not like the stilted narration at the beginning, but I did. It put a clear distinction between traumatized Alice and the Alice that began to heal.
I barely encountered dragging scenes as well. The world building is also sufficient enough for me to be able to picture out the places the characters are in, it was neither too much nor too little.
What I didn’t like about the book though, is the ending.
“He won’t be safe,” Hatcher repeated. “For I will find him and I will strip the flesh from his bones piece by piece. There is no place the Rabbit can hide, no hole he can disappear into. I will not sleep again until I have heard him scream for mercy he will never receive.”
Alice and Hatcher’s goal was to find the only weapon that could defeat the Jabberwocky. Because of that, they had to fight most of the major crime lords in the Old City and in effect ended up uncovering their painful pasts.
It was nice at the start, the mystery, the way their past slowly resurfaced with each Crime Lord they meet. But when they finally got to the last Crime Lord, the Rabbit who was the one who raped Alice and caused Hatcher to go insane, it sort of fell short.
But I could have let that slide because it also served as a good reconciliation for Alice’s past.
But the stuff with the Jabberwocky….
For all the violence they went through (and committed), the confrontation with the supposed “Final Boss” felt rather bland and anti-climatic. I won’t go through much details about the ending but it didn’t involve any fighting. Also, there was much stupidity on Jabberwocky’s part.
I was disappointed.
WHAT SORT OF EVIL MAGICAL VILLAIN ARE YOU?! DID YOU MISS YOUR “HOW TO BE A SUCCESSFULLY DREADFUL VILLAIN” CLASS ONE TIME TOO MANY?
Sheesh. *Insert face-palm here.*
This book isn’t really a “retelling” of Alice in Wonderland in a way one might think. Just barely– like, it used the names of the characters and used very few iconic events like tea parties and the magical food and drinks that makes people bigger or smaller. Beyond that, this is original. When I first read the synopsis, I even thought that it sounded a bit like the American McGee’s Alice video game but even then, the only similarity they had was they are both dark and twisted and Alice was sent to an asylum (and got out).
Due to the setting, most of the characters in the book are depraved or morally-challenged. Despite that, I really liked this book. Not because of the violence itself, but because of the fact that it talked about them. This book reminded me poignantly that these crimes are happening even in the real world.
I also liked the fact that there are many scenes in the book that reminded me of my Theology and Philosophy subjects back in my college years. It reminded me of the issues our teachers liked to make us think about, like euthanasia and abortion– issues where you are asked to decide another person’s life or death based on their current situation.
The girl wanted this, she knew. But was it right? Were they saving her from the same fate elsewhere? Or would she have had a chance to find somewhere new, away from the Old City, where she could be happy?
It’s so easy to answer such questions when they are just fiction but what if I have to make such decisions in real life? Makes me wonder what I would do. I’m glad that I never had to make such decisions and I hope that I never would have to.
My rating: (bumped to 4 in goodreads because I enjoyed it more than I hated the ending)
Recommended to: People who don’t mind dark and violent stories
Favorite character: Alice
Favorite quote: “There was comfort in ignorance, in thinking the world a certain way and not knowing any different.”