Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Review: Alice by Christina Henry

Christina Henry
Release: August 4, 2015
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 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.
Alice is not exactly a retelling of Alice in Wonderland, though some of the characters and events are familiar. It's also not an update of the classic story. It doesn't take place today, but in a world where people exchange gold coins, slave traders roam the streets and factories make city air hard to breathe. It could perhaps be seen as a sequel, since Alice is now an adult who has been to this world once before. I've decided it's best not to try to figure it out and just enjoy the ride. It's a dark fantasy adventure about a woman facing her demons and discovering her own strength.

Ten years ago, Alice followed her friend Dor into the Old City. Two weeks later, Alice came out alone, covered in blood and talking about the Rabbit. Since then, she's been confined to the asylum, plagued by nightmares of what the Rabbit did to her. Her only friend is the man on the other side of the mouse hole in her room. Hatcher remembers even less about his past than Alice does about hers. He knows nothing before he killed a room full of men with his axe and landed in the asylum. But when the fire allows him to rescue Alice and escape, he knows how to find a safe place in the Old City.

There's no color in the Old City but the occasional splash of blood red. In fact, Henry rarely mentions anything having a particular color at all unless magic is involved. Magical beings wear colorful clothes and live in colorful places, unlike the rest of the city's residents who believe there's no magic left in their world. Everything is dirty, smoke-covered and gray. Hatcher, with his black hair sprinkled with white and his gray eyes, fits right in in the Old City. They wear gray clothes to blend in, but Alice's blonde hair and blue eyes mark her as Other. It's a testament to Henry's skill that color became such an effective symbol on a black and white page.

The story's structure does recall the original Alice. She and Hatcher move from one character to the next, seeking information. First Cheshire, then the Caterpillar, and so on. But instead of animals, these characters are crime lords who each control different territory within the Old City. They each, to varying degrees, engage in human trafficking and prostitution. The scenes Alice encounters in each of their lairs are both horrific and visually stunning. There's no Queen of Hearts in this world, no female in a position of power. All the women are victims, even Alice, though she saved herself once before and she's no longer the girl she once was.

Now she has a knight in shining armor, or at the very least a partner, and he's a crazy axe murderer. There are some sweet moments in their relationship, though it's not precisely a romance. I felt like it was somewhat one-sided at the beginning, with Hatcher clearly committed to Alice while she seems to be just along for the ride. But I think she grew to understand Hatcher by the end of the journey and appreciate him for more than just his devotion.

Alice is definitely not a fairy tale for children. If it were a film, it would probably be rated NC-17. Though visually it would be absolutely stunning. I was fascinated by the characters, horrified by their circumstances and inspired by their courage. Despite everything she's seen and endured, ultimately Alice is a symbol of hope. I'm excited to see what's next for this more mature Alice and her Hatcher.

Recommended for fans of: fairy tale retellings and dark, adult fantasy

ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley

4 1/2 stars


  1. This sounds so interesting. I'm not a big Alice in Wonderland fan (except the Disney animation from childhood), but this sounds like it just pulled characters from the story and put them in a completely different world. It sounds great. I'm going to have to check it out. I'm so sad that it isn't available on audio right now.

    1. I expect it will be available on audio since it seems to be so well-reviewed. I know she's writing a sequel.


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