Review: Alice – Beware the Claws that Catch

Suck it Huckleberry Finn.

Suck it Huckleberry Finn.

What more can be said about Lewis Carroll’s (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) iconic novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

Commonly referred to as simply ‘Alice in Wonderland’, the 1865 novel has become one of the most well known pieces of English Literature of all time. The story of little Alice Liddell’s adventures through the world known as Wonderland has been retold through countless mediums ranging from films to television, musical productions/referenced in songs, artist depictions and illustrations and even a musical pornographic film (I can only dare you to try and Google Search this. Just don’t go to far down the rabbit hole. *No Pun Intended*) As with any great piece of literature, there are several authors or artists that will try to recreate or retell a story that is familiar to people by doing things such as telling the story from a different character’s viewpoint (IE. The Wizard of OZ and Wicked) or modernize the story so today’s readers can compare it to their lives (IE. Beauty and the Beast and Beastly). However, a popular form of story telling that has taken the literary world by storm would be the ‘Gritty Reboot’.

The ‘Gritty Reboot’ is a reference to a subgenre of entertainment such as literature or movies where a pre-existing intellectual property is re-imagined as a darker (film noir) and often more violent version of the original material. This term was originally created in 2009 by artist Mike Jacobsen for a Cracked article depicting the lion, the scarecrow and tin man killing Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz in lieu of going to the Wizard for a heart, a brain and courage. From its inception, gritty reboots have found their way to several mediums from film, artworks, and novels. Novels in particular have seen the Gritty Reboot treatment as classic stories such as Pride and Prejudice became Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Alice in Wonderland is no exception.

The focus of today’s review is Christina Henry’s Alice. Released earlier this year (August 4th 2015), this re-telling of the classic tale follows a broken and distraught Alice as she is dragged through a Victorian-Style nightmare. For this review, I will not only be look at the novel’s writing style, characters and story, I will also be comparing it to Lewis Carroll’s original source material. Fair warning, this review will have Spoilers. But as usual, let’s take a look at the author in the spotlight, Christina Henry.

About the Author

What is her secret? She hardly looks out of her twenties.

What is her secret? She hardly looks out of her twenties.

Currently residing in Chicago with her husband and son, Christina Henry is the author of the national best-selling novel series Black Wings. I would say more about her, but her website’s bio is scant of information. Anyhow, let’s get to the review.

The Writing Style

Christina Henry’s writing style can easily be described as coherent and straight forward with droplets of madness added into the mix. From start to finish, she has written a story that actively keeps my attention for the extent of the entire story. Her greatest strength in my opinion would be with her world building and settings. From the cobble stone streets and run down buildings to the oddities of Cheshire’s house, Christina Henry brings a level of surrealism and imagination as well as realism that draws you into a dark and cruel Victorian world.

The Characters

I will just come out and say this, each of the characters in this story could be compared in parallel to the different circles of Hell (Think Divine Comedy). None of them are spared from tragic experiences either in their past, present or future and it has changed them, but whether if it is for the better or the worse is a different question. Let’s take a look at each of them:

  • Alice: Alice in this retelling has received the short end of the stick. From a young age, she has been locked in an asylum after an event that had left her beaten, raped and scarred. Her development throughout the story can be considered slow at first because for a large portion of the story, she is in disbelief that there could be a such a violent city next to her own. Though as the story goes on, she changes from a naïve young woman to someone hardened who becomes capable of murder.
  • Hatch/The Hatcher of Heathtown: Alice’s guardian, friend and possible lover, he spent ten years in the asylum with Alice for the murder of eight people. Hatch was born as a ‘seer’ who can get visions of the future from time to time. Without giving away too much information, as the reader goes through the novel, he is seen as a tragic hero. While he is prone to violence and instability, there is a side of him that shows compassion towards Alice and his grandmother Bess.
  • The Jabberwock/Jabberwocky: The primary antagonist of this story, he is the entity of evil that has escaped from his prison and set the asylum that Alice and Hatch was locked in on fire. His presence in the story can often be seen with a trail of blood and bodies of innocent bystanders. The Jabberwocky is unfortunately less memorable than the other characters, despite being the antagonist as while he has an overpowering presence that is akin to a living boogeyman, it still feels like he has been put aside to the back of Alice and Hatch’s minds in comparison to Old City’s Crime lords.
  • The Crime Bosses of the Old City: In the Old City, the different districts are controlled by four crime lords: The Carpenter, The Walrus, The Rabbit and Cheshire. While these character’s are more human in their appearance, they each have a distinctive characteristic that is easily identifiable with Lewis Carroll’s work such as Cheshire’s curly locks and twisted smile, and the Walrus’ hulking size, mangled hands and teeth. To me, these characters stand out to be more as the true antagonists of the novel. You can imagine the cruelty they are capable of if they desired such as the Walrus eating young women as he violates them. You are drawn into their thoughts and want to know what they have planned for Alice and the Old City. Though despite the Walrus having a large presence in the story, I felt that the Carpenter was underutilized considering that they are both have an equal part in Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus and The Carpenter. Truthfully though, I would like to see Christina Henry write a prequel novel to this story with the focus being on the four crime bosses alone.

The Story

In Christina Henry’s version of Alice, the young heroine after being found covered in blood has spent the past ten years in an insane asylum, being fed powders to keep her calm and her only friend is an older man named Hatch, a seer who killed eight men in a murderous rampage. Following a fire that had set the asylum ablaze, the two venture into a crime filled and ruinous city called The Old City which is where the undesirables are kept from the people of The New City (where Alice was originally from). They would soon experience vicious criminals, questionable individuals, magical creatures and an over-sized rabbit during their journey to find the vorpal blade to kill the Jabberwock.

The story is consistent throughout the entire novel without halt and keeps the reader going. My one complaint though would be that Alice’s naive behavior wore it’s welcome in the first half of the book with her disbelief in magic and her new found abilities. I also felt that while Cheshire’s involvement in the story fits his nature and also correlates to the source material, I felt that his interventions were almost too close to deus ex machina moments.

In Relation to the Source Material

Don't remind me of this insult to Lewis Carroll.

Don’t remind me of this insult to Lewis Carroll.

While this story does have several tie ins to the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and does a good job referring to the source material, I feel that it is hit and miss. In the original source material, Alice has been brought into the Wonderland and from there, her adventure begins. However, Alice in this story has already been through the horrors of the Old City (Wonderland) and is returning to it and that premise is more akin to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and we all remember how that went.

I would have to congratulate Christina Henry for making her version with a more realistic perspective in regards to Victorian culture, but it misses part of the oddities and strangeness that made the original version that made the story so captivating. Though with her characters, it does create a sense of insanity and surrealistic world-building that people who have read the original version can relate to. Going back to The Walrus and the Carpenter, I was disappointed in how the Walrus managed to snatch young women. In the original poem, the Walrus and the Carpenter lured the oysters from their bed and followed them onto the beach. In this version, the Walrus just had his men capture women. It would have been more interesting if the Walrus had a way to ‘attract’ young women to him such as offering wealth or fame before consuming and violating them.

Conclusion

With the ‘Gritty Reboots’ that are making their way across every form of media imaginable, it can be questionable of which one to check out, but there is no question here. Christina Henry’s Alice is a novel that is worth picking up. The characters memorable, the style macabre and surreal with a touch of realism thrown in and a story that keeps the reader going. Despite the small flaws that I personally have with the novel, I would still fully recommend picking it up from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

If you want to check out Christina Henry and the rest of her work, feel free to check out her author’s website.

You can buy Alice at any major book retailer such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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