Monday 30 July 2018

Book Review: Alice by Christina Henry

In a mental asylum there lives a young woman committed by her family.  The screams of the inmates echo around her and her daily life is by turns brutal and monotonous. Her name is Alice and she is not sure why she is there, except for various flashbacks: of someone assaulting her, of her stabbing someone, of someone menacing with long rabbit ears.  When the asylum catches fire, Alice has the chance of escape and finding out what happened to her and how she got there.

Alice is a curious take on the Alice in Wonderland story: dark, disturbing and strange.  The world created in this book is split into the New City where Alices family lives and the Old City where she runs to find answers.  The New City is prosperous, comfortable, orderly and no one asks too many questions about the world. The Old City is full of crime and brutality and no woman is safe.  Every neighbourhood of the Old City is ruled by gangs and thugs will grab any girl or woman they can to sell to the highest bidder. There is no law, no government and no help or justice.

The book features all the famous characters from the Lewis Carroll's famous original story: the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, the Walrus and the Caterpillar, but not in a guise that will be familiar to anyone.  The characters are cruel and unredeemable in their nastiness, murdering and pimping their way through the book.

Alice’s character is both terrified of the situation she finds herself in and fuelled by the anger that erupts from her at witnessing the brutality that is visited on women and girls in the Old City. She grows in strength and courage throughout the book as she makes her way through the Old City, facing her tormentors and recovering her memories. One interesting element of the story is the idea of suppressed magic, with magicians being a thing of the past but magic surviving in strange places and in people.

Although the author spends some time revealing the back stories of the main characters as we move through the story, I would have loved to have found out how the Old City and New City came about and what the history of the banished magicians was in relation to the cities’ creation.  One of my favourite elements about fantasy and alternative worlds is the effort the author puts into their world-building and the detail and believability of this.  The dual world in Alice is believable but remains mysterious to the end of the book. 

Alice ends on an adventure as much as it brings another to a close.  I enjoyed the book and would probably read the next instalment. An entertaining, fast-paced if unchallenging read.

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