This book needs a trigger warning (if you’re into that sort of thing.) It’s rare that a “dark” spin on the Alice mythos actually lives up to that (shallow) attribution. This one’s filled with so much violence (sexual violence, regular violence, torture) that even the decapitation-happy Queen of Hearts would be like “Damn, girl, you went there?”
It’s a pretty good book, but it’s important to know what you’re getting into. See above re: violence, but also know that it’s almost entirely violence against women. It’s condemned and punished — basically every man in the book is evil and treated as such — but it will be distasteful to a lot of readers, and there’s nothing to be done about that.
It’s also worth clarifying that this is not a retelling of, reimagining of, continuation of, or prequel to the Alice stories. It’s a story that stands on its own with character names, images, and some themes taken from Lewis Carroll’s original, but this Alice is neither the same character as in those stories, nor does this novel follow a similar thread.
That’s not a condemnation of the novel, though some people call it out as one. It’s easy to argue that this is just a story that was afforded some new character names through a series of find-and-replaces in an attempt to improve its marketing potential. The book certainly could work without the tie-ins. But I think that this novel deserves to be evaluated on its own regardless of what source material may or may not have been used to great effect (not always true of books like this). I also think the Alice stuff works beyond some silly references. It mirrors some of the more unsettling subtleties of the original, uses parallel characterizations to an interesting effect, and excuses some of the more unusual magical elements that may have otherwise elicited some dubious side-eye.
Here, Alice is a young woman who’s spent the past 10 years in an insane asylum after being abducted, abused, and raped by a man known only as the Rabbit. She gets out and navigates the brutal, sooty, corrupted Old City (ruled by mob bosses with names like the Walrus and Cheshire) in search of an evil magical creature, the Jabberwock. She’s also dealing with her memories of her past, an axe-murdering companion, and some budding questions about who she really is.
I’ve seen the word “dreadpunk” thrown around to describe the general tenor of this novel, so if you know (or can infer) what that is, maybe that will mean something to you. I like the brooding, Victorian atmosphere and pretty much imagined the world as a more vibrant Yharnam (the setting of the video game Bloodborne.) So I guess I like dreadpunk?
Anyway, read it. Or don’t. End of review.