Fantasy · Recommendations · Reviews

Alice: Brilliant Gothic Fantasy Retelling

Buongiorno my fellow bibliophiles! I come to you today with a review of a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed, one that I completely devoured. While I feel a lot of praise will be pouring out of these fingertips in a few seconds, I feel that I must warn anyone who is already considering a reading of this title to approach it cautiously as it has a lot of disturbing content within its pages. It is not for young adults, or children, and it also isn’t for the faint of heart. Now, with that tidbit out of the way, let’s get started.

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I first learned of Alice from one of my favourite BookTubers, Emily May, who raved about how weird this book was. Suffice to say: she wasn’t fucking kidding. Alice is an adult retelling of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, but it’s not the sweet and innocent tale of madness that is illustrated in Carroll’s stories. This version is an extremely dark and twisted tale that has been dipped in gothic fantasy and horror that resides within a world of dystopia. In no shape or form is this young adult literature, at all! Madness in this world is as real as the sun burning in your eyes. It’s magnificently intense.

Alice has escaped the hands of a vile and malicious man known simply as The Rabbit. Stories of her time with him—of cake, of tea, of rape—are viewed with such skepticism that her family admits her into a mental hospital. For ten long years, she lies within padded walls with only a small hole in the wall that connects her to a man named simply as Hatcher. Then one evening a chance at escaping her cage arrives. Taking Hatcher’s hand—giving him her trust—they flee to the outside world, to the filthy streets of Old City where Alice will face new horrors to rival those of which already plague her mind—all that shall eventually bring her face to face with The Rabbit once more.

There is virtually nothing in this narrative that I did not like, or find to be absolutely riveting. Let’s start with some of the most engaging aspects. The visage is a visceral portrait of blood, gore, and rape. It will take your breath away with a morbid combination of shock and fascination. Then there is an overhanging fog of excitement that engulfs you as you watch two distinctive characters fight for freedom and peace of mind. Alice and Hatcher share chemistry that is built upon the trauma from their tragic pasts. This doesn’t leave any room for instalove bullshit, but a realistic exhibition of feelings built on the foundation of faith. Being a victim of rape, we see Alice struggle with feelings that she can’t differentiate as authentic, or gratitude towards a saviour.

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If that isn’t enough to grab you, maybe the descriptions of familiar faces from the original fairy tale—Walrus, Cheshire, Caterpillar—with wholly terrifying personas and pleasures might hook you. They are re-created in a means that is strange yet inventive. References to specific traits that are known from the original work help deliver an eerie sense of nostalgia.

Being presented with a book this warped may make you wonder if it will be supremely dense or not. Fear for heavy reading is something that prevented me from picking it up much sooner, however, many of you will be pleased to know that the prose is surprisingly clean and uncomplicated, creating a jarringly uncomfortable feeling while reading of scenes involving sexual abuse. Yet the experience isn’t disgustingly negative, it’s engrossingly raw. While being modest, it allows you to connect to what is going in a seamless way, giving it imaginative substance.

The fantasy elements are also quite superb. The dystopian city structure is talked about subtly throughout the novel. Instead of an information overload, we are presented with vague snippets that provide enough sustenance to make us eager for future additions to the series. Magic and magicians as political figures are brought up with ambiguity until much later into the fiction. I found it to be a fantastic compliment to the overall pacing and gritty nature. A brilliant exploration of what’s reality versus psychological conjuring keeps you questioning the legitimacy if what Alice and Hatcher are experiencing are truly real or not.

Finally, the themes. For a relatively short chronicle, the themes are plentiful. I know that if given the opportunity, I could create a list that would run a mile long. So, instead I’ll just share a few of my absolute favourites:

  • Madness does not equate to lunacy. In fact, it’s usually the journey towards something extraordinary.
  • There is always hope, you just have to have faith, no matter how dire the circumstances.
  • Your past is not the forecast to your future. What becomes of your life, whether it’s bleak or not, is entirely by choice, not force.
  • A life of victimization doesn’t mean you’re broken.

The remaining themes are decidedly far less optimistic and pleasant, so I decided to focus on the positives.

WP_20160814_19_51_52_RchSo… if I haven’t made it unashamedly obvious already, I highly recommend Alice penned by Christina Henry. The sequel recently flew onto shelves a couple of months ago, titled Red Queen. If you’re an adult, or have an aptitude for adult literature—really fucked up, twisted literature at that—go check out Alice as soon as possible!

Thank you for reading my long-winded review. Until next time! ♥

9 thoughts on “Alice: Brilliant Gothic Fantasy Retelling

    1. Well, the original isn’t one of my favourites either, which is probably why I love this one so much. It takes those characters and puts them in a completely different environment. It feels less wacky to me, and so much more polished & creative.

      Liked by 1 person

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