Series: CHRONICLES OF ALICE
Plot Type: Dark Fantasy
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—4; Humor—1
Publisher and Titles: Ace
1. She learns to temper her natural curiosity and use extreme caution because things in the White Queen's kingdom are never as they seem.
2. She figures out the difference between reality and illusion.
3. She discovers what the rules are in this world so that she can avoid breaking them. Then, she has to learn to play by her own rules, not the Queen's.
4. She learns that stolen magic corrupts, weakens, and eventually kills the thief who takes it from another.
5. She learns that she has to believe in her own magic with all her heart in order to make it work.
6. She learns to accept Hatcher's violent nature. "Hatcher was no wolf in an innocent's clothing. He was a wolf in a man's form, a killer forced to pretend that he was civilized."
The supporting characters are well-developed, with interesting backstories and—especially in the case of the giants—dialogue that is filled with noir humor. Hatcher disappears into the enchanted forest very early in the book, just after he murmurs, "The night is alive, Alice…And so am I." From that point on, Alice is really the star of the show, and she steps right up to keep herself and the innocents she meets safe from danger. No one has to rescue Alice; she rescues herself. The Alice-Hatcher relationship deepens in this book and the two eventually express mutual love. My favorite line is this one that comes near the end of the book: "His eyes were…a little mad and much sadder than before, and also eyes that loved her. A great relief washed over her then, because Alice was a little mad and much sadder than before and she loved him."
The storyline has some major twists and turns, particularly towards the end when assumptions you might make turn out to be completely false. This is great story-telling in action—a real treat for the reader. At one point early on, Hatcher mourns, "The world gobbles us and chews us and swallows us…I think happy endings must be accidents." But the HEA ending to this story isn't an accident. It's the result of a skilled author's creation of a smart, plucky heroine who is determined to make the world a better place for everyone she encounters (with the exception of the villains, of course).
The only people from the New City who visit the Old City are men in search of sexual pleasure, and for that reason, the most prevalent "industry" in the Old City is the slave trade of women and young girls, who are kidnapped from their family homes and locked up in brothels. Generally, their families are murdered during the kidnappings.
Sir John Tenniel's
1866 Cheshire Cat
On Henry's Facebook page she warns, "This is not Wonderland," and you should heed her words. Alice is a suspense-filled, violent tale about greedy, misogynistic men, the women they mistreat, a heroine who decides that she will do her best to rescue the innocent and punish the guilty, and a mad hero who will lay his life on the line for her.
NOVEL 1: Alice
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.
Hatcher and Alice make their way to his grandmother's house in the Old City, where Grandma Bess announces that she has had a vision that Alice and her grandson are the only people who can kill the Jabberwock. From that point on, the pair wanders the dangerous streets and alleys of the Old City, meeting up with various characters who trick them, attack them, betray them, and sometimes try to kill them—human characters who are called Dormouse, Cheshire, Caterpillar, Walrus, Carpenter, Rabbit, and (of course) the Jabberwock himself.
Both Alice and Hatcher have tragic histories, but neither can remember the most traumatic events of their past, except in unconnected bits and pieces. Alice has been locked up for 10 years, since she was sixteen and rescued herself from a kidnapper, after which she babbled on about a rabbit and a tea party until her family consigned her to the asylum. Hatcher (aka Nicholas Carbey) is ten years older than Alice. He earned his nickname from a violent incident in which he killed a lot of people with his axe—but he can't remember why he did it. Both Alice and Hatcher can remember what came before and after these violent events in their pasts, but they can't remember exactly what happened to them that caused them to go mad. As the plot advances, the two begin to retrieve their memories as they learn new information about themselves from the various villainous characters they meet on their quest to locate the Jabberwock's missing artifact. In Alice's case, she also begins to realize that her family heritage has bequeathed her some unexpected powers. As Alice becomes more confident, her snark level rises, resulting in some snappy dialogue.
The highlight of the story is the relationship that develops between Alice and the mad Hatcher, who sometimes is caught up in rages that turn him into a raging, cold-blooded killer. As they depend upon one another for survival, Alice realizes that Hatcher truly cares for her when he promises that he will kill her and then himself if there is no other way to avoid capture: "From another man this might be terrifying, that he would so blithely consider murdering his companion. but she understood that from Hatcher this was tantamount to an offer of marriage. This was what he could do for her, how he showed he cared." (Chapter 3)
Henry has done a great job interweaving significant characters and plot points from Carroll's story into her all-new and much darker fantasy. Be aware, though, that Alice is quite violent, particularly in the way that women are brutalized. No young girl is safe on the streets of the Old City because the bosses' slave traders are always on the lookout for new candidates for their oh-so-profitable brothels.
Most of the story lines are resolved by the end of the book, as Alice and Hatcher work their way through the city conquering villain after villain, but new information gleaned from various contacts ensures that there will probably be a sequel. (Alice hasn't yet met up with the Red Queen, the White Queen, the Knave of Hearts, or the Mock Turtle.)
If you are searching for a fresh, fast-paced, action-packed fantasy, you'll probably enjoy this book, particularly if you like your fantasies on the dark side.
FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Alice is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.