‘Alice’ by Christina Henry: Book Review

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by L.Carroll is a story popular for being retold, adapted and used as an inspiration for new projects. The list for film and television programmes based on Alice in Wonderland is big enough to have its own Wikipedia page, the novel has been adapted into musical/stage productions and has even inspired stories and characters in video games. However, another common thing artists and writers take from Alice in Wonderland is twisting it and creating a dark retelling of the tale of the girl falling down the rabbit hole. ‘Alice’ by Christina Henry isn’t the first ‘dark’ and ‘edgy’ retelling of Alice in Wonderland I have come across, as the first one is actually PS3/PC and Xbox 360 game Alice: Madness Returns. A game I actually quite enjoyed growing up!

‘Alice’ the 2015 novel by Christina Henry also almost brought that excitement back to me but this time in written form. Now I will say my first write-up of this and the feelings I had when I finished the book was very similar to how I finish most books which are excited and feeling accomplished! I wrote down how much I adored this retelling and that even though it was disturbing it felt like it succeeded in making a point about the dark topics used. But now I’ve sat back and thought about it, I thought I’d share my honest, spoiler-free review of ‘Alice’.

What I did enjoy about this book is that I enjoyed the inverted characters, I really loved seeing Henry’s dark portrayals of originally beloved characters from the books but this time they’d be antagonists and have very dark, irredeemable pasts. Objects and tropes from the original tale made appearances too such as the ‘Eat Me!’ cupcake and ‘Drink Me!’ bottle, the roses and the tea party. But, this time everything had such a darker symbolism and it was quite clever how Christina had changed this. Even after finishing I’m recalling characters and realising their reference to the original story and being quite intrigued. The story itself played out almost like an RPG, in which there was ‘bosses’ and big bads one after the other, the main characters stopping for rest and food and the main character herself having a power she didn’t even realise she had. I didn’t mind reading it this way and actually quite enjoyed it, I liked imagining in my head what Old City was like and enjoyed that some of the names of places and areas called back to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and if they didn’t (or I couldn’t get the reference) they still brought personality to the world.

However, my biggest gripe with the story is that there was way too much sexual violence. I get this was meant to be a mature, disturbing retelling where there will be horror, gore and blood and I could get behind that and in some novels and stories I can understand why rape, abuse and violence comes up and if the victims manage to get a happy ending, revenge and the story emphasizes how horrible it is, I can normally accept a story having it. What I think went wrong in ‘Alice’ however is, although the story is clear the trade of young girls for sexual purposes or being eaten is horrific and the men that puppeteer this need to be punished, the way it’s written feels like they tried to emphasize how horrible it is by making it happen so often, by describing Alice’s trauma in detail, and having every female in the story basically either terrified of being raped or had been. Even then, I personally felt the final fights with the main antagonists that were rapists or allowing this violence and abuse were so anti-climatic that there was no justice? There was a scene of freeing a bunch of girls from the horrible trade and I was grateful for that scene but it’s almost as if the original plot had one antagonist in mind and then it was said the story was not brutal enough or ‘real world dark’ enough so they added in all this sexual violence?

Personally, I found myself gripped to parts of this book and did want to find out the outcome of every character and felt myself wanting Alice to get revenge and justice not just for herself but for all the females in the story. I did also find myself quite wanting to read the sequel book (Red Queen -and pray that hopefully the level of sexual violence is remarkably toned down) just so I can find out what happens next in the story.

I’d rate ‘Alice’ about a 2.5 of 5 as it has some cool fantasy ideas and I could somehow picture it in a film or video game but after sitting back I do see the flaws in how parts of it were written. Shock value is popular for a reason, popular media like Game of Thrones is widely watched and read for a reason and I feel the reason is purely that people are so shocked and astonished by what characters do and think it’s so out of the blue (and normally it is, sometimes very out of character) that they must finish it to find out what happens! I definitely succumbed to that reading this. I enjoyed parts of it but in general was very much turned off by the use of sexual violence and rape as shock value. Would I like to read any of the other stories by Christina Henry such as Lost Boy? Possibly. But ‘Alice’ in itself is a story not for everyone.

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Thank you for reading!

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