Alice hated being interesting. (a couple of times throughout the book but p. 287 is where I recorded it.)
I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. I’ll probably seek out the follow-up books, but I already know that the thing I think needs to happen–Alice becoming the Queen of Hearts–won’t.
Everything is awful. Insane asylums are awful, being disbelieved is awful, magic is awful, the Jabberwock is awful, the story of how the Jabberwock Became is awful, and men in particular are awful.
But most of them.
Alice is the story of, obviously, Alice and is, as the illustration on the cover makes clear, a re-working of sorts of Alice in Wonderland. A re-working in which Alice goes into the Old City, led first by her friend Dor and then by her fellow madhouse resident Hatcher, despite being of the New City born. Alice is largely led along without a lot of agency of her own — a thing noted by the narrative (and not only about Alice herself) — and she does so hate being interesting. Because being interesting means drawing attention, willfully or no.
There are a couple of things that frustrated me about this book. First of all, my constant wonder that so many authors riffing on Alice in Wonderland forget the book is, at its heart, about mathematics and logic and how, even when a thing appears illogical to someone outside the system (or trapped in their own system), Wonderland has its own rules.
And the Old City is not Wonderland, despite everything.
She didn’t want to be grateful, Alice knew. She’d wanted to take her own fate in her own hands, not be rescued by someone else. – p. 191
The second thing is…I’m tired of narratives that require rape for their main characters. I’m not going to go into details about where, specifically, I saw this as unnecessary in the book because spoilers (though it crosses my mind: CW for Vore and no, I’m not kidding). I just…this Alice’s life and the world she lives in are sufficiently awful without adding in a backstory of rape; the world is dangerous enough without emphasizing said danger with the threat of rape. Alice can be her muddled sort of strong without it.
Also: the symbolism gets a little heavy-handed toward the end, partially because there’s a lot crammed in the last few pages about what Alice can do and how she does it.
Alice had been raised to think violence was wrong, that a person should never take another’s life. She was learning there were times when it was necessary, and even right. – p. 245
But I think this is at the crux of my problems with the book. Alice goes along with and makes excuses for Hatcher’s violence (“he’ll never hurt me,” she thinks at several points during the book), and then begins making excuses for her own. I would have been bothered less if Alice were accepting of her own need to make other people bleed, or worse, because she thought it was the way to avenge herself. Instead, all the violence becomes almost casual.
I wish I thought the author were making a point about the ways in which that sort of mindset is, as Alice notes, sometimes necessary but also rarely healthy. “When you go for revenge,” the saying goes, “first dig two graves.”
This is a story about Alice, and the places she has to return to, and the inner strength she denies and has to come to grips with. The story of a girl who has to grow into a woman in some very hard and unexpected ways. And who, in the end, is saved by the girl she was.
And Alice may hate the word, but that story is interesting.