This is all terribly confusing. It started out confusing and never really resolved. The Alice in the title is referring to Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. We basically alternate between Ada, Alice’s friend, and Lydia, Alice’s sister. Ada has slipped her governess, Miss Armstrong, and has continued unescorted to bring a jar of marmalade to her friend Alice’s family. Ada has stumbled into Wonderland and goes on a search for her friend. Wonderland is as it always was, confusing yet sometimes profound. Our Lydia chapters seem to ground us in the “real world” that is Victorian England in the 1860’s.
Ada is a homely girl who usually wears what she calls an iron corset to treat her scoliosis. (She is often referred to as “ugly” in Wonderland, for that is how she sees herself.) She is described as weak and a great deal less flighty than her friend Alice, but also seems more kind. She also seems to be a bit more intelligent than Alice, and at the very least has more common sense. I have a guess that most of her adventures in Wonderland take place after her death. She loses her “iron corset” in her descent into Wonderland and lands in an ocean, after she mentions she cannot swim. She is then cured of her ailment, and is suddenly brave and clever. There are also multiple mentions of death, coffins, and Hell.
Lydia is set in the real world. Her chapters are a bit of a palate cleanser between the sections of ridiculousness. Here she deals with Shakespeare, and social standing, and a (in her mind) potential new suitor. Lydia was sent out of the house to mind her sister while the great Charles Darwin came to visit her father. With him came a mysterious American gentleman with an even more mysterious child in tow. Lydia is on the cusp of womanhood at just fifteen, and is trying to do all that she should, but she is a bit lost without her mother, who died a few months prior. We do see glimpses of Alice in her, for they do come from the same stock.
Ada’s chapters are more of a companion piece to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland than a sequel. She does arrive after Alice (the ocean she lands in is most likely the one caused by Alice’s tears) but is always just a few steps behind. We see many of the same characters Alice encountered. This may be a bit of an easier read if one reads the original first, as a refresher. The book does not go on past the events in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but that is what we are waiting for. What really happens to Ada? What are the consequences of her actions? We know Alice continues to have adventures, but what of Ada, Siam, Mr. Winters, Lydia, and Miss Armstrong? What was the fate of Ada’s new infant brother?
The language is fanciful and uses a vast vocabulary. The flow is often interrupted by unknown vocabulary. The conundrum is this: to guess at the meaning of the word and continue reading, or pause and look up the new term? It is not as if I do not have the means of learning the meaning of the unknown word; I have both a smartphone and a laptop within reach. But ultimately I am lazy, and generally continue on in either ignorance or apathy. (The joys of no longer being in school – if I do not choose to learn, I do not have to!) I do wonder if it would make a bit more sense if it were to be read (in a lovely British accent, of course!) (After listening to the briefest of samples on Audible, I have changed my mind, probably because it is read by a woman. I believe I would prefer a male reader, for some reason.)
Perhaps it is because Ada is more intelligent and mature than Alice that the characters in Wonderland make more sense. There is wisdom in what they say, although it is sometimes masked as frivolity. Ada has a disability, and so is more aware of the cruelty of the world, and is more cautious. In some cases, it seems that the residents of Wonderland have put on a childish show for Alice, and they are back in their dressing rooms when Ada comes along, and so are not quite in character, and are a bit more steeped in, if not reality than maturity.
This is by no means my favorite adaptation, or sequel, or continuation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. There are far more interesting and entertaining paths to follow. We don’t really see all that much more of Wonderland or learn of its inhabitants. And we don’t continue past the original story. But there are some words of wisdom, and one could learn quite a few more vocabulary words if one would wish to make the effort. So if you are fond of the original, consider giving it a read. If you are looking for more of Alice, then perhaps try something else – she is mentioned quite frequently, but is barely present.