Blurb from 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.
There are only so many ways an author can interpret Alice in Wonderland. I’ve read a few reinventions of it. By far this one is the creepiest, darkest, and most terrifying of them all. It’s rough, raw, twisted, and it moved far… far from the original childhood classic you’re used to. By that I mean this book contains a lot of disturbing images: blood, violence, murder, abuse, mutilation, cannibalism. Also, rape and sexual assault is a major theme here. If you’re sensitive with these topics, be warned.
“You’re only a mouse if you let them make you one.”
I wasn’t a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland. Though I guess I like it enough to watch some of its movie adaptations and read a few selected retellings. And every single one just slips out of my memory after a day or two. But not this retelling! The Old City is no Wonderland. And Alice isn’t the sweet, innocent, girl we know. After this I’m pretty sure the next time I hear Alice in Wonderland I’d be picturing this book’s Alice –blood on skirts, knife in hands, and with revenge burning in her eyes.
Christina Henry’s reinvention of this classic tale shows us an adult Alice with vague recollection of her past. The story has the feel of a dark continuation to the original tale. Since Alice’s bloody escape from the rabbit hole she’d been raving on and on about the Rabbit who apparently had done terrible things to her. Her family decided to send her into an asylum in the Old City. There she found a friend in Hatcher –another patient locked up in the asylum for reasons that he couldn’t quite remember. They’ve been there for ten years. Isolated and forgotten. Until an escape was made possible, and both Alice and Hatcher set off to uncover the truth about their past and quench their thirst for revenge towards the people who had done them wrong.
Out here the world was bright and sharp and full of hungry mouths waiting to eat her up.
The world-building was insanely good. Henry’s world was not like Carroll’s weird, strange, and colorful one. At all. This book took me to a dangerous and dismal place called the Old City. You do not want to be in the Old City where there is only filth, putrid smell, and danger in every corner. Not to mention that it’s being run by atrocious people like the Walrus, the Caterpillar, and the Rabbit who rapes and tortures every woman they set their eyes on. Alice herself was a rape survivor. Stripped of her innocence, she braves the streets of the Old City, fighting to seek justice for herself. And thank God for Hatcher who never left her side. Mad and blood-thirsty he may be, but in a world as dangerous and as twisted as the Old City, Alice needs him.
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.
Everything in this book was painted and described in detail. From the Victorian England setting down to the unpleasant images of violence. Sometimes I have to pause and take a breath every time I’m in the gritty part of it. It’s vile and ugly and I hate those parts but somehow they worked for the dark theme of this book. An odd thing to say. I know.
My only disappointment with this book is that you can actually notice how Alice so easily triumphed over her enemies. Henry established a fearsome reputation for the Rabbit and a seemingly unbeatable image of the Jabberwocky since the beginning of the book. But when the moment of confrontation finally came, the Rabbit didn’t even put up much fight. Even the Jabberwocky who oozes with dark power was so easily defeated. No sweat.
This book is definitely not for everybody. Some might find some scenes jarring and disturbing. For me though it wasn’t very frightening. So maybe it depends on how squeamish you are?
That being said I will be reading the sequel soon as I get my hands on it. I would recommend this to readers whose jam is dark retellings of their childhood classics. If you’re looking for a book with eerie atmosphere and sinister vibes then this might be right up your twisted alley.