Alice by Christina Henry

Retellings of classics have the potential to be spectacular or disastrous. Alice in Wonderland has been tried before - though I confess I haven't read the written form of such retelling but having watched a few adaptations on TV I came away sorely disappointed. Like the big screen never could justify that mad gleam in the Hatter's eyes - as matched perhaps by the twisty imagination of one such as Lewis Caroll.

And with this book, Alice - Christina Henry takes a swan dive into that deep dark rabbit-hole and definitely emerges a winner! A book that is dark as sin and racy as hell on jet-fire, Alice is a masterful and disturbing retelling of the classic laced over with many layers of darkness and intrigue. Magic is unexplained as in a fairy tale - but one for kids, this is not. It's a fairy tale gone horribly wrong - more a fantastical thriller set in a madman's darkest nightmarish setting called the Old City, a far cry from the Wonderland.

The story starts in a mental asylum deep in the bowels of the Old City; a broken down place where poverty and cruelty reside side by side. Territories are chalked up between gangster bosses - each one trying to outdo the other in terms of mindless cruelty and misery heaped on the hapless suffering to live in this place - a place avoided like plague by the rich and the 'good respectable citizens' of the New City. Alice has been trapped in this hospital for the past ten years without a memory of how she landed her except for snatches that hint at blood and gore and a certain rabbit. Her only connection to sanity is her friend and neighboring cell-mate Hatcher with whom she has long conversations trying to piece together reality. And then one night, when the asylum goes up in flames, she and Hatcher escape - Just as Hatcher has been hoping they would - to try and lose themselves in the nameless alleyways of the Old City, far away from the prying eyes of the law or authority. But things never go according to such best laid plans. Along with them, a being only known as Jabberwocky has also escaped into the world. And it plans to destroy the same, starting with the Old City.

Alice and Hatcher reluctantly get caught up in this prophecy - not of their choosing but with their past harboring secrets and many an interesting story that entwines their fates together, they embark upon a dangerous journey to stop the Jabberwocky. And to remember their past.

The story unfolds fast and furious - as everything is interconnected, individual threads forming a pattern and part of the larger canvas. It's bloody and gory - and definitely not for the fainthearted. Alice, the lead character is a girl of steely nerves and relentless pluck, a deliciously complex character mired in her own confused memories, and still managing to hold her own against the horrors of the Old City. She's such a wonderful character to get inside of - and having started the story with her scattered memory, Christina slowly unspools the reel - dropping hints and building up the fascinating backstory. A word about Hatcher - the strong silent companion to Alice (Mad Hatter?), he nurses enough grudge from his past against a lot of the Old City bosses that his anger and vehemence of his actions feels real and strong enough to almost bounce off the pages.

The thrill and suspense of the chase through the night alleys and abandoned tunnels inside the claustrophobic Old City is also well written. The territory bosses - who pop up one after the other as Alice's adversaries as she picks up the trail leading back to her old nemesis, the Rabbit - are all well fleshed out. Christina takes her liberty with the characterization of the old familiar names like the Rabbit, The Cheshire Cat and The Caterpillar - all caricatures of evil painted in different shades, giving them each a memorable character- quirk that is sticky and monstrous at the same time.

It's an addictive read and a fairly short one at that. This re-imaging is for adults - featuring some sexual violence, a lot of blood and gore - and that brooding dark atmosphere that never quite lifts off. The image of the Old city is haunting- Like a rabbit's warren drawn by a psychotic architect, be it the roiling wisps of fog or murderous denizens who reside inside or the poisonous river water that can melt a knife or the ever growing dark shadow of Jabberwocky, it's all wondrously depicted. There are dollops of unexplained events, magical and disquieting at the same time. In perfect sync with a fairy tale and Christina keeps the patina of horror alive right through to the end. And what an ending!

Once you blast through the book, you feel it all came together way too sooner - and you are left lamenting the size of this short book that promises to transport you away to a dark new wonderland for a few hours. Read this. Highly recommended to fans of dark fantasy and horror - come down this rabbit-hole if you dare!


Varad Dudheria said…
Do you recommend reading alice in wonderland before this ?
Sachin Dev said…
Hmm if u cud pick up the abridged shorter version, so u r familiar with the characters mentioned, I think u can compare and contrast. Making ur reading exp much more richér...that said, this ones a completely different story line..

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