The old woman looked at her sharply. “Did you not see the creature in the fire? Do you not believe the truth of your own eyes?”
“No, I don’t,” Alice said. “Once, I saw a Rabbit, who was also a man, and everyone said I was a liar.”
Christina Henry | Alice | p. 47
Do you remember that little girl with curly blond hair? The one that jumped through a rabbit hole and arrived in a world full of wonders, ate cake at tea time with a mad hatter and the same nervous rabbit she followed down the hole? Remember how she returned to another dreamy world by climbing through a mirror, talking to strange queens and sitting in a boat with a knitting sheep?
Yeah, well… Christina Henry took the story that Lewis Carroll told of little wandering Alice and turned it into something new and gloriously gory: a duology called The Chronicles of Alice. But in Alice, the first book, as well as in Red Queen, the second one, the main protagonist is still the same Alice, somehow. At least it felt that way to me, and I thought that to be utterly fascinating.
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. – Alice, p. 21
In this magical and haunting retelling of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, we meet Alice as she is locked up in a hospital in the Old City. Everyone seems to think that she is insane, including herself. Because, you see, Alice’s family is from the New City, where everything is shiny and perfect. And when their daughter disappeared only to be found wandering through the streets of the Old City, babbling things about a rabbit who held her captive, they label her insane and leave her in a hospital in the Old City.
One day, long ago, she’d gone seeking an adventure and found terror instead. That day had changed the course of her life, and left her hands awash in blood. It was not her fault, but this was how it must be. She understood that now. – Alice, p. 268
And then the hospital is on fire, and Alice finds herself fleeing from the fire and from her past and from everything else. But she isn’t alone, a tall man is by her side, talking about a monster called the Jabberwock who has been set free by the fire. This Jabberwock is out to kill everyone who gets in its way. As Alice’s and Hatcher’s journey progresses, they discover that it is Alice, who has to destroy this monster… and it might lead her straight into the arms of another monster from whom she fled so long ago.
This is a story about magic, about good people and bad, about a world split in two parts: one of perfectionism and one of poverty. It shows the darkest abyss of human nature. I see the first book as setting the stage for the second book. While the first one, Alice, is about Alice finding herself and seeking revenge for what has been done to her, the second one, Red Queen, is a truly unsettling but also really beautiful story that reminded me so strongly of Alice in Wonderland that it was uncanny. In my opinion, it was the perfect fairy tale: dark and sinister, dripping with blood and magic, but also really mesmerizing and full of hidden morals and hints to the story it is based on.
His voice sent shudders of fear down Alice’s spine. It was a voice that had forgotten how to be human, how to love and care and fear the darkness. It was part of the darkness now, his heart mired in greed and desire and pain. – Alice, p. 257f.
This retelling feels just like a dream you step into and can’t figure out where you are or even who you are – everything feels different but anything that happens make a strange kind of sense that is lost as soon as you awake. I have to say that I enjoyed the first book, but was a little skeptical where the story would lead – and then I read the second book and was absolutely mind blown. So far it is one of my favourite books I read this year. Also, I really love Christina Henry’s writing style. So crisp and clear and the same time really poetic, touching your heart and soul with just one sentence.
“I want to rest,” Alice said, and she meant it with all her heart. “Once I lived in a cage, and before that a different kind of cage. I tried to break free from the first one and they put me in one that was much, much worse. All I want is to find the place I have dreamed of, a little cottage in a green field by a lake.” – Red Queen, p. 188
If you enjoyed the famous children’s classic Alice by Lewis Carroll, you should definitely pick this one up. Also, if you are somewhat obsessed with dark and sinister retellings as much as I am – well, if you aren’t hooked on those stories by now I don’t know what will!
Author: Christina Henry
Title: Alice (#1); Red Queen (#2)
Series: The Chronicles of Alice
Press: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2016
Pages: 325; 313