I knew it was going to be my kind of book when Alice befriended an axe murderer on page six. I’m a simple girl; the way to my heart is through a little bloodshed and a good old fashioned insane asylum. What can I say? The Valentine’s Day spirit got to me. Nothing screams “I love you, honey” like a twisted Alice in Wonderland retelling.
Alice by Christina Henry makes the story we all know a whole lot darker. It begins in a ruthless insane asylum where Alice is a traumatized victim of the White Rabbit who kidnapped and tortured her. Alice then partners up with the unapologetically homicidal Mad “Hatcher” to defeat the Jabberwock (a violent creature from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass) and reclaim Alice’s hazy memories. Curious happenings ensue along with a slew of murder and general depravity.
I have a bit of a soft spot for Alice in Wonderland. I love it all: the madness, the nonsense, the death and darkness festering beneath the veneer of whimsical chaos. Alice takes all the familiar themes, skews them so they’re not quite right, and then plunges them into shadows and gore. This is no Disney cartoon; Alice is disturbing and violent and so very, very unstable. The characters are not your typical pristine heroes; they are crazy asylum escapees with traumatic pasts and a predilection for brutality.
Henry’s strange writing is perfect for the story. It retains a brand of innocence and charm similar to that of the original tale, but it takes on a sinister tone in the bloody context. It never tries too hard, and it comes off as effortlessly poetic in its own demented manner. Right off the bat, the story is introduced with “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.”
The creativity of the world Henry builds is breathtaking. Wonderland is not at all wonderful, but instead takes the form of a dilapidated city infested with crime and fear. All the famous Alice in Wonderland characters are warped in just the right ways, recognizable but not nearly as innocuous. The setting is trippy and bizarre like any good Alice in Wonderland retelling should be.
Alice is weird. Like off the charts, Donnie Darko level, what-the-heck-am-I-reading weird. It’s so original that it belongs to a genre of its own. It’s impossible to say exactly where it belongs. It’s not fantasy, but there are some familiar elements. It’s not horror, but it’s definitely horrific. But this refusal to fall neatly into one category is what makes it stand out.
Not everyone will like Alice. Its excessive violence is polarizing and some people just won’t get it. “Why is Alice friends with Hatcher if he likes to kill people? Why is every single character immoral?” These are valid questions, but if you’re asking them at all, Alice is not for you. The story relies on the idea that nothing is sacred, there are no lines to cross, and madness is the new norm.
Like a nightmare from which you cannot wake, every angle and curve of Alice is immersed in terror and grotesquely distorted terror. Wild, imaginative, and oh-so-very dark, Alice delivers a Wonderland much scarier than the one we know, but just as remarkable in its eccentricity.