Alice by Christina Henry
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication Date: 2016
Purchase on Amazon
Synopsis via Goodreads: 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.
When I was considering a book for my first Curiouser & Curiouser Review I knew it had to involve Alice and a Victorian-esque asylum. So Christina Henry’s twisted and disturbing tale simply called Alice, the first in a two-book instalment, felt like the best place to begin.
Henry’s vision of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel takes place following a twisted and altered version of Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole. Alice has returned from ‘Wonderland’ after being held captive by a mysterious and frightening figure, a man with long ears like a rabbit. After being found covered in someone else’s blood and rambling about a mad tea party, she is thrown into an asylum by her well-to-do family. Here she meets a man named Hatcher who suffers from memory loss (as does Alice) and the two escape the asylum to begin an adventure of revenge and murder as they hunt for a mutual foe.
To say the book is brutal would be an understatement. Not for the faint of heart, Alice‘s main plot involves a violent and repulsive sex-trade run by some familiar Wonderland characters (you’ll never ever look at the Caterpillar the same). It goes without saying that those who wish to avoid books with sexual violence should look elsewhere for their next read. Alice also sports an intensive list of somewhat undesirable topics such as body horror and slavery. Not subjects Lewis Carroll likely had in mind for his own Alice.
But if you have the stomach for it, Henry’s Alice is a thoroughly enjoyable page-turner and the book equivalent of a guilty pleasure B-Movie. Though numerous parts of the book had me cringing in horror (you’ll know what I mean when you get to the butterflies…), I actually found this book to be a super addicting and — don’t judge me for this — fun read. Henry’s Alice is badass, no-nonsense, but remains a kind and compassionate character despite the horrors that stalk her. Henry’s writing, while a tad simplistic and at times rushed, painted a vivid and interesting world that I’m interested in exploring more in Red Queen, the second book in the series.
However, the book was far from being perfect. While I felt immersed in Henry’s macabre world, I would have appreciated more character development, especially in regards to the relationship between the two main characters. Alice’s companion Hatcher is fleshed out with a slowly revealed backstory but I was left feeling unattached and a bit dismissive of his character by the end. Angry isn’t sexy and isn’t enough of a character quality to make me care much about whether they achieve their goals or not.
I would have also enjoyed reading more about the Old City, the story’s main setting. A lot of travelling between locations, save for a couple of instances, felt very rushed. Henry’s book could have easily been an additional 100 pages long if more time had been spent discussing the streets, the people and history of the Old City. I was hooked by what Henry presented in Alice, but after I was finished reading I felt a bit unfulfilled. I think she’s sitting on a goldmine of world building and I hope she expands on this more effectively in Red Queen.
The final issue I had was with the ending, which I will only rant about briefly without spoiling. While I’m sure some readers will enjoy the conclusion to Book 1 I felt severely ripped off. It was almost enough for me to lower my overall rating of the book quite dramatically, but because of my enjoyment during the rest of the story, I gave it a sort-of pass. I’m still very interested in reading Book 2, but it’s made me a bit wary of Henry’s writing in general.
Is this book for you? It depends on how twisted you want your Alice in Wonderland interpretation to be. If you want a fun, quick read and you don’t mind a lot of blood then this is a great book for a lazy Saturday afternoon. Just don’t expect any real depth and heed my warnings about sexual violence.
White Rabbit Rating:
This was a difficult decision as I enjoyed the book despite finding it occasionally frustrating and a tad unrewarding. However, my overall impression of it was more positive than negative, so my White Rabbit Rating for Christina Henry’s Alice is 3 fluffy white buns out of a maximum 5.