Thursday, October 1, 2015

Book Review: Alice by Christina Henry

From 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.
I tend to be a bit wary of retellings.  It's not that I actively avoid them, it's just that I'm very selective about putting time into a story I already know.  I want to know that it's going to be new and original and, especially in the case of fairy tales, not just a swoony romance that goes exactly as I know it goes because I've seen the Disney movie.  So.   I initially skimmed right past this when I saw it on NetGalley.  It wasn't until I read a review in Library Journal that I was really motivated to try it.  I saw the description as dark and gory and I couldn't pass that up.  I also liked the idea of Alice in a mental hospital.  It seemed something other than a typical retelling.

Which is where the writing review comes in.  This is incredibly well done.  It's probably the first straight up horror retelling of a children's story I've read and I loved it.  This is not a happy story and it does not have adorable and whimsical characters.  It's dark and sinister and, although it has the characters from Alice in Wonderland, it is most certainly not the story of Alice in Wonderland.  It's something completely new.  Even the characters are, I think, loosely enough inspired that they're completely new creations.  This story is all Christina Henry's and she does a great job with it.

Entertainment Value
I couldn't stop reading.  In fact, I stayed late at work in order to finish because I couldn't bring myself to leave the building without knowing what would happen to Alice and Hatcher.  That said, this is incredibly dark and definitely not for every reader.  If you like horror, if you like the original Grimm stories, if you want to be creeped out, this is a great one to read.

The biggest questionable element to me is the amount of sexual violence contained in the story.  We don't see graphic rapes, but rape plays a MAJOR role in the story line and the fact that, in the Old City the crime bosses deal in women as opposed to drugs or weapons is made very clear.  So while we aren't in the mind of a character who is being raped, we hear about many characters who have been raped.  Because of that, it comes with a huge trigger warning from me.

That said, I think what redeemed the amount of sexual violence for me was that it is so clearly evil in the eyes of the author and the reader.  It isn't for a second eroticized or meant to be titillating.  It's portrayed as cruel and evil.  You don't read this and wonder if the author means for the reader to be aroused by any of it (George R.R. Martin, I'm looking at you).  I also loved the way Hatcher's character treats women who have been victimized and his refusal to continue to victimize them in any way.  For me, that aspect made the trauma described readable.  But it might not for other readers.

I highly recommend this with the caveat that it's for mature audiences (definitely not YA) and I'd classify it as horror as opposed to a fairy tale retelling.  It's gory and disturbing, but also completely engrossing and original, particularly in its characterization.  It's also going to become a series, which I'll certainly be following as it continues.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

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