After I finished the Black Company, I was in the mood for something dark and violent in the writing style I usually enjoy. I stumbled on Christina Henry’s Alice by accident after perusing an Amazon’s recommendation list. Alice in Wonderland has never really been my cup of tea—big or small—but it always felt like something I wanted to be interested in. It’s weird and odd and I liked the video game aesthetics a lot, so I figured why not give it a shot?
It also probably didn’t help that while getting my Master’s, I accidentally smashed an acquaintance’s treasured Alice in Wonderland glass cup in a clumsy drunken stupor and was coached to lie about it and say it wasn’t me, but I got morals guys, and I owned up to my mistake and while the chick was pissed, I at least had a clean conscious. Which sounds overrated, but really isn’t in the long line of regrets you could have.
Plus, Alice featured the Jabberwocky. I mean, it’s on the cover. And despite the shoulder shrug feelings of Wonderland, I do so very much love the claws that snatch. Monsters, man. I can’t get enough.
The novel opens with Alice imprisoned in an Old City mental institution after she mysteriously returns from somewhere jabbering nonsense about the White Rabbit with her face flayed open and red between her thighs. She is promptly imprisoned, drugged, and abandoned by her family. Her only friend, Hatcher, speaks with her through a mouse-chewed hole between their padded cells and is a notorious murderer with a reputation for slaying men with an axe. Hatcher (in running for Favorite Character) believes the Jabberwocky, who sleeps beneath the insane asylum, is out to get him and claims he becomes madder when he feels the Jabberwock’s blood lust. When the asylum is lit on fire, Hatcher and Alice manage to escape by jumping in a toxic river, but see the dark shadow of the awakened Jabberwocky in the distance.
Be still my heart!
The novel’s pace is that of a rushing river: within pages we move from the asylum to the dirty streets of the Old City to where Hatcher’s grandmother, Old Bess, lives. Hatcher’s memory is shot—”it’s knotted in that snarl he calls a brain”—and he doesn’t know why or how he knows things, only that they are ‘safe.’ While this works for a while, I had a hard time swallowing Old Bess, who acts as a mysterious soothsayer, explaining how these things will come to be, but never exactly explaining how she knows, only that she’s a Seer and Seers just know stuff. She gives Alice an amulet without a clear agenda, only that she’s going to pass away soon, and she knows a lot about the Rabbit and the Jabberwocky, and even has connections to the Cheshire because the Cheshire likes her for some reason. She’s too in-your-face-mysterious for mysteriousness’ sake, and that was when I realized the novel had a distinct young adult feel to it.
This annoyed me—not because I’m prejudiced against young adult novels—but the writing took a dip once I realized how simplified it seemed. It didn’t have the description I craved, the sentences were juvenile in some places and I peaked to an eye roll stage when I came across this:
Out here the world was bright and sharp and full of hungry mouths waiting to eat her up. She couldn’t afford Hatcher’s instability, and she wouldn’t leave him either. They were bound together by love and need and other feelings she didn’t entirely understand.
I’ve never been a woman, she thought. She didn’t mean it like a woman who is a wife and performs wifely duties (like the ones the butterfly girls offered the men who entered the club), but a woman who sat in adult company, who saw the world through an adult’s eyes. Her body had grown older but her mind was still trapped at sixteen, still unsure of how to act and how to be. She loved Hatcher, but it was a girl’s love for her savior.
The writing suddenly represented Alice’s immaturity, her inability to grow due to her imprisonment. Alice realizes it and makes several observations in regards to this, yet remains on that cusp of adulthood throughout the whole novel. Her potential growth is one of the reasons I plan on reading the next novel in the series.
Beyond the YA feel, I want to stress that this is not a young adult novel, but it does represent a very outdated world. The Old City is heavily mob-run, each section of the city divided between the mob bosses: the Walrus, the Caterpillar, the Carpenter, and the Cheshire. Women are commodities, items that are stolen out of their beds unless under specific male protection to be raped and mutilated. Women do not hold power—any type of power—and it got to the point where I began to wonder how the Old City maintained a sustainable female population. If each mob boss (besides the Cheshire) kidnapped any available female to be raped and (a la Walrus) eaten while being raped, I couldn’t understand how the females just didn’t all die out. Even Hatcher, an Old City native, continually claims Alice as ‘his’ or under ‘his’ protection. I’m not against bad things happening to people, but it got to the point that I wanted a woman mob boss to rise from the ashes and steal men from their beds and do terrible things to them! I demand equality in violence! But, in addition to that, I also wished for a sensible man who could keep his dick in his pants. We had a lack of kickass females and even more of a lack of kickass males.
Not that I’m implying Hatcher is a bad man. He and Alice immediately and obviously share a strong bond from being imprisoned for so long, but I can’t help but wish for a slow burn. I don’t think the obvious attraction between them decreases the quality of the story (and I did appreciate that Hatcher was so much older than Alice), but I did wish it didn’t feel so unrequited. Hatcher is the right amount of nuts with a mysterious past and a salt n’ peppa beard that I can get behind this show and ride it into the sunset.
I’m going to circle back to the whole reason I picked up this book to begin with: the Jabberwocky. I’d waited page after page for the deadly thing to be revealed. The Jabberwocky isn’t a monster at all, but a Magician who dabbled in the dark arts and transformed into a terrible creature who was later imprisoned by his previous best friend who took away the Jabberwock’s magic with the vorpal blade. The backstory was good, but when Alice faced the Jabberwocky she didn’t fight a terrible dragon monster, but instead:
A man stood in the middle of the street, an average-sized man wearing a black suit and a black cape and very shiny black shoes…His face was bright and curious. Something about it reminded Alice of Cheshire, and his eagerness to learn everything about them. His eyes were very black, though, black like a night without candles or stars.
NOOOOO!!! Don’t make the Jabberwocky a fancy pants man of all things! I want a monster, not a well-dressed man who stepped outside the gala for a cigarette!
And then Alice tricked him with the easiest con in the book:
“Give me your hand,” she said, and held out her own.
The Jabberwocky narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “You will not be able to trick me thus; nor will you put me to sleep with your friend.”
“I don’t wish to trick you, or put you to sleep,” Alice said, and it sounded true because it was true.
“You cannot force me out of existence,” the Jabberwocky said. “My magic is stronger than yours.”
“If you are so much more powerful than I, then you have nothing to fear,” Alice said.
She knew then that he was frightened of her, deep in the well of his soul, for he did not understand her. She faced him with clear eyes and a clear heart, without trembling or crying. She was nothing like anyone he had met before. She waited. He placed her hand in hers.
…”I wish you were a little purple butterfly in a jar,” Alice said, her voice high and clear. “A very little jar without holes.”
Beware the claws that catch, my ass. I’m gonna make a better Alice in Wonderland. I’m gonna write a genderbent Alice in Wonderland where the Jabberwocky is a lady! Quick Google searches have confirmed that a certain TV show has already explored that venue. Fine then! I’ll make only a genderbent Jabberwocky and watch Alice and the lady duke it out! Muhahahaha!
Despite the ‘epic’ fight, I did enjoy Alice’s sadistic attitude and plans for my much beloved Jabberwocky:
“I’m going to put this jar in my pocket now,” Alice said, and the Jabberwocky stilled. “I’m going to put it in my pocket and I am going to forget you. It will be a very long time before I recall that you are there. When I next take this from my pocket, your wings will no longer beat. And when I pass by a river or a lake, one with very deep water, I will throw this out into the middle and watch it sink, and never think on you again. Once day I will have a daughter of my own, and I will not tell her the story of the good Magician who trapped the Jabberwocky. I will not tell her so that the world forgets your name, forgets you ever existed. It will be as if you never were in the first place.
I was so monster desolate that I scoured Pinterest and made a monster board. Despite my need for things that go bump in the night, I enjoyed Alice and will most likely be seeking out the second novel when it comes out. While I haven’t quite fulfilled my need for dark violent books, I have another book club book to read. Hopefully after this I’ll find a monster novel worthy of my imagination.