Rating: 4 Stars
Synopsis via 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.
I tend to be a
little lot judgmental when it comes to re-tellings. I love re-tellings, especially the fairytale kind. And I especially, especially love Alice in Wonderland re-tellings (for obvious reasons).
I was very judgmental of this book.
“You’re only a mouse if you let them make you one.”
This took me quite a while to get through. Partly this is due to me being in school right now and quietly dying as I go through pathophysiology and a law class (that of which is the bane of my existence), and my long, long to-read list must take a backseat during this time (quite unfortunate, that).
The other reason is due to the first bit of this book . . . boring me, just a little. And, understand, that the few times I had been able to take and read a chapter or so of this book instead of studying, I have very little patience for books that bore me, and if I was just slightly dozing during a scene, I’d put the book down to continue writing a patho paper or continue studying the reproductive system or lymphatic system. That has been my life these past few months.
So keep that in mind. The first few chapters of Alice and Hatcher in the insane asylum were glorious. I raced through them, but once they entered the Old City, I dozed off at points, leading back to the problem I just listed above. And, so, it took me a while to get through this.
“That was the trouble with not being right in the head. You couldn’t always tell if your eyes were telling the truth.”
But that time was short lived. By the time I was about 1/4 ways through, I was hooked. I’m now on Thanksgiving break, and therefore I had the time to sit down in my comfy – though patchy and old – reading chair and finish this book in one sitting. It was glorious.
I was thinking this book was going to be about Alice discovering her past and running from the Rabbit, but, really, that is only a short part of this book. Instead, I got gore, and lots of it.
(I loved, loved, loved it.)
I must warn you, of course, that this novel does include rape (lots and lots and lots of this), gore, prostitution, chaos, and quite a lot of grisly human mauling. I can say that it was not overdone, but do not take that to mean there wasn’t much of it. Because that would be a lie. There is not one chapter that goes by that does not include one of the things I listed above, and Ms. Henry is not shy about writing about it explicitly, either.
However, despite the pure amount of those things, it didn’t feel overdone. The Old City is screwed in every sense, and these things are simply a part of it all. The bosses of parts of the Old City, that of which include the Cheshire Cat, Mr. Carpenter, the Caterpillar, and the Walrus, to name some, are the worst of them all. They deal in women and drugs and blood. They are not a fairytale come to life, unless you wish to think of the Grimm Brothers’ versions.
There were parts in the beginning about Alice that annoyed me, I will admit. She was just so weak and docile at the beginning, and that was partly why there were times I grew bored of this story. However, that does not last, and Alice very quickly learns the way of the Old City and how to survive is to be bloodthirsty as well.
By this point, and if you’ve read the synopsis and even a few of anyone else’s review of this book, you’ve probably figured out that Alice has been raped by the Rabbit. If you didn’t know this already, well, now you do, and I really would recommend anyone going into this book to know this anyways.
“Alice dreamed of blood. Blood on her hands and under her feet, blood in her mouth and pouring from her eyes. The room was filled with it.”
The reason being that this aspect of Alice’s past comes into play quite a lot, and for the more sensitive of audiences, this should be forewarned. Alice is constantly being judged and reminded about this little fact of her life, and the fact she cannot remember everything about this and her past. As a woman, it always hurts deep down in my chest when I read about something like rape and human trafficking, just because I cannot imagine a worse fate.
But Alice is not scared about her past. She’ll look one of these Old City bosses in the eye – these bosses, who have men grabbing girls off the street to be their playthings, to carve designs into their skin, to give them drugs and put them into a dog cage and sell them to the highest bidder for no other purpose than they can – and smile her crazy grin, and slash their throats, because she is just so tired of being someone else’s victim. And she’s already got the knife in her hand, so why not put it to good use?
Alice is not a savior, however. She is not on some righteous spree to free all these girls and redeem the Old City. No, she and Hatcher are out for revenge and the truth. If they happen to help or free people along the way, then great, but that’s not their true purpose.
This is one of the better Alice in Wonderland re-tellings I’ve read, and definitely the most gruesome. But I’ve always thought Alice in Wonderland was crazy and dark, so it worked quite nicely.