Alice – Christina Henry Book Review

“Careful, this white rabbit will lead you on a psychotic journey through the bowels of magic and madness. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the ride.”

A mind-bending new novel inspired by the twisted and wondrous works of Lewis Carroll…

536.jpgIn 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…

If she moved her head all the way up against the wall and tilted it to the left she could just see the edge of the moon through the bars. Just a silver sliver, almost close enough to eat. A sliver of cheese, a sliver of cake, a cup of tea to be polite. Someone had given her a cup of tea once, someone with blue-green eyes and long ears. Funny how she couldn’t remember his face, though. All that part was hazy, her memory of him wrapped in smoke but for the eyes and ears. And the ears were long and furry. When they found her all she would say was, “The Rabbit. The Rabbit. The Rabbit.”

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.

Her face had been flayed open when they found her, and she couldn’t say  how or why. It had been open for a long while, the blood oozing from it gone black and brackish, the skin around it tattered at the edges. The doctors told her parents they had done their best, but she would never be beautiful again.

I loved this horror re-telling of Alice in Wonderland. Old City is where everything happens and the madness is real. Alice is deeply disturbed after her encounter with the White Rabbit. Her only friend is Hatcher – the man who talks to her from the next cell and also remembers very little of his life before and once they escape, they work together to find out who they were before. At first, I was highly entertained. The green grassy hills made way for an industrial city, the sparkling blue rivers have been replaced by green sludge and the merry cast of characters have become either bruised and battered victims or terrifying monsters. Alice herself is no longer the curious girl but a scared, scarred and confused woman who has to deal with the trauma of rape while being locked away in a mental institution. Dark clouds gather, fires erupt and another tumble down the rabbit hole ensues, only this time it’s going to be bloody.

“I feel the night crawling up all around, blotting out the moon. I feel blood running down the walls, rivers of it in the streets below. And I feel his teeth closing around me.

Where Lewis Carroll left a lot of silhouettes in his shrouds of mystery, Christina Henry drags them out into the spotlight and explains them away. Nothing is left up to the imagination. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the once magical characters suddenly had to have something as ridiculously mundane as motives, these motives also had to be clarified. In my book, that’s akin to blasphemy in Wonderland.

The world building in Alice was exquisite, a Victorian era society where the rich live in the New City while the majority of people live in the dog eat dog world of the Old City, a world controlled by crime lords like The Walrus, Mr. Carpenter, The Caterpillar, Cheshire, and, of course, The Rabbit. Aided by Hatcher, who may be an incarnation of The Mad Hatter, Alice goes careening through the back allies of the Old City, going up against all sorts of miscreants, discovering her birthright, and facing her darkest fears.


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