Alice, by Christina Henry (Review)

“One day, long ago, she’d gone seeking an adventure and found terror instead. That day had changed the course of her life, and left her hands awash in blood. It was not her fault, but this was how it must be. She understood that now.” 

Rating: 4.5 stars

loved this book. I was recommended this by my housemate, and then by a work friend, and decided to give in and read it. I can’t believe I waited so long. Alice is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland, with all of the Wonderland taken right out of it. This is a dark, difficult story of a grown up Alice who lives in a real, dark world. No Wonderland about it. There are familiar characters threaded throughout: The Caterpillar, The Cheshire, The Jabberwocky and of course, The Rabbit. They’re not the characters that I remember from Wonderland, though. 

“In the Old City there were very few ways for women to stay alive, and all of them involved a man.”

Alice is set in a horror-fantasy world called the ‘Old City’, where Alice was hospitalised after she comes back from her trip down the rabbit hole. They think she’s crazy, and she does too. While this world is a fantasy world, it felt heavily influenced by Victorian-era England to me, and this book pulls no punches about handling rough topics. Within the first few pages, we are brutally (though not graphically) aware that Alice has survived being kidnapped, raped and drugged, and hospitalised for her sufferings. Her only friend is the man in the cell beside hers, Hatch, only able to communicate through a mouse hole for years. When the Jabberwocky escapes, a monster of horror searching for blood and magic, Alice and Hatch escape too, and find themselves on a journey to find the blade to slay the Jabberwocky – not because they’re heroes but because they have no other choice.

Despite being a fantasy novel, the monsters in Alice are unrelentingly human in their behaviours. Even when there is magic in every scene, it is hard to shake the brutal reality of their behaviour. We see sex slavery, human trafficking, murder, mutilation, cannibalism, rape and endless acts of mindless brutality. It never felt to me like Henry was including these factors to be gruesome, or shocking, but instead included them as realistic details in the underworld of a city rocked by gang crime and poverty, and in a time where a woman was more possession than person.

The characters were all well-fleshed out, especially Alice and Hatch, and I loved following two characters who had been told they were crazy, and kind of believed it, but weren’t willing to let that get in their way. The whole book was incredibly fast-paced, especially when it entered the second act, and while that fit the narrative well it did sometimes feel a little fast. I did read the whole novel in the space of a few hours, though, so perhaps that didn’t help with feeling it was moving quickly.

The end of this book was satisfying and whole, so while I haven’t read the sequel yet it feels very complete. Once I’ve read the sequel, I will know for sure, but at the moment I honestly don’t feel it needs another book to complete Alice’s story. I’m sure I’ll love Red Queen just as much as I’ve loved her other stories.

I could talk about this book for hours, and the more I talk about it the more I consider raising the rating again and again. Overall, I thoroughly recommend this book, and on the back of this one I read The Mermaid and loved that too. I will absolutely be reading the rest of Henry’s dark retellings, and can’t wait for The Girl in Red, a retelling of one of my favourite stories of all time.

Note: This review was copied verbatim from my Goodreads page, dated May 12th 2019.

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