Book Review: Alice

aliceAlice
by Christina Henry
Fairy Tale Retelling
291 pages
Published 2015

I was a little wary going into this one – Alice in Wonderland is a difficult tale to reshape. You need enough crazy that it IS Alice, but not enough that it veers into “what is going on here anymore I can’t follow this.” This book did it wonderfully. It’s a dark re-telling – it begins in an asylum, that Alice and Hatcher (The stand-in for the Mad Hatter) break out of. Hatcher’s a murderer, and Alice is no wilting flower herself. Together they fight their way through a neglected, abandoned city run by gangs, to recover the one weapon that can vanquish the Jabberwocky.

It’s a dark book – rape is rampant throughout a city without law, though it’s never graphically described, at least. The weak are chattel to be used, sold, and killed by the strong. But Alice has been weak, and refuses to be weak again. She’s a bit of an avenging angel, descending on the oppressors and freeing anyone she can.

Both Alice and Hatcher have incomplete memories – their trauma both from the city and the asylum fracturing and hiding their pasts. They recover some of those memories throughout the story, and Henry has handled it perfectly, revealing to both them and us key parts of plotline when it’s needed, in a very natural way.

The romance plotline is unconventional, but also very believable, given what the two experience together. Though it’s also a love that I’m not sure can survive outside of their circumstances. After the book, when they (I assume) settle down in peace and quiet – I don’t know that their romance will persevere. They’re traumatized and broken and cling together to hide some of the sharp edges – or cling together in such a way that those sharp edges face out to protect them from the gangs in the city. When they no longer need to kill to survive, what happens?

I’m glad to find there’s a sequel, as they do still have an uncompleted task when the book ends. I’m also intrigued to read Henry’s other series, Black Wings.

Final verdict: I loved it. But it’s dark, so be prepared for that.

From the cover of Alice:

In a warren of crumbling buildings and desperate people called the Old City stands a hospital with cinder-block walls that echo the screams of the poor souls inside.

In the hospital, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place – just a tea party long ago, and long ears and blood….

Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape. She tumbles out of the hole that imprisoned her, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago.

Only something else has escaped with her. Something dark. Something powerful.

And to find the truth, she will have to track this beast to the very heart of the Old City, where the Rabbit waits for his Alice.

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Book Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass

girlsGirls Made of Snow and Glass
Melissa Bashardoust
Fairy-tale Retelling
372 pages
Published 2017

WOW! I received an ARC of this book through Goodreads and got to read it before the release date (September 5th! Today! GO GET IT!) and I was SO excited to read it. It did not disappoint! This is her debut novel, and the story is absolutely fantastic. It’s billed as a “fantasy feminist fairy tale” and I think it lives up to that pretty well. There are no princes in this story. There are a couple of men – the King, the Queen’s father, and the Huntsman, but they are not who the story is about. The story really is about the Queen/stepmother and her stepdaughter, the Princess.

It’s hard to talk to much about the plot without giving things away, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a GLBT relationship, and one that was treated pretty matter-of-factly. It’s really lovely to see someone take a medieval-ish fantasy setting and make GLBT relationships a perfectly normal thing. Too often medieval fantasy comes with a big dose of bigotry because “that’s the way things were!” ignoring that this IS YOUR FANTASY WORLD WITH MAGIC IN IT so why on earth can’t things be different?!

There was definitely a bit of stilted dialogue, and early plot events were a little cliche, but it’s her debut novel and I’ll forgive that for how outstanding everything else about the book was. It flips back and forth between the Princess’s viewpoint and the Queen’s, and early in the book it also flips between current events (the Princess’s viewpoint) and many years ago (the Queen’s viewpoint, before she became Queen and stepmother to the Princess). It was a little jarring the first time, before I realized it had also jumped backward in time, but after that it was smooth.

All things considered, I love this book. I think it’s probably one of my favorite books of 2017. I am SO happy I own a physical copy of the book! I’ve been getting most of my books from the library recently, so it’s pretty awesome to own a copy of a book I enjoyed so much. I highly recommend this one.

From the cover of Girls Made of Snow and Glass:

At sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone. Her heart has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that normal – she never guessed that her father had cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Winterspring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: Win the King’s heart, become queen, and finally know love.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: A magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do – and who to be – to win back the only mother she’s ever known. 

 

Book Review: Ensnared

ensnaredEnsnared
Rita Stradling
Romance/Fairy-tale Retelling
419 pages
Published 2017

So I actually picked up this ebook because it’s by the same author as Colorless, a book on my to-read list, and Ensnared was on Kindle Unlimited. (So I could read it for free!) Long story short, I just spent the 99 cents to buy the ebook of Colorless, because I REALLY enjoyed Ensnared. I’ve always had a weak spot for retellings of Fairy-tales, and this was no different.

Ensnared is a rework of Beauty and the Beast – but with robots and artificial intelligence running rampant as well. The Beast, in this book, is a rich eccentric holed up in a tower away from all human contact. He commissions a robot companion from a genius inventor, and when it’s not done in time, Alainn chooses to go in its stead so her father won’t go to jail. Assured, by the robot itself, that she’ll only have to masquerade as a robot for a few weeks until the work can be finished and swapped out (the robot looks exactly like Alainn!) – she sacrifices her freedom to ensure her father’s.

Then, of course, the inevitable happens and Alainn and the recluse fall in love. Things quickly spiral out of control, with hacked AIs, killer robots, and monkeys. (Yes, monkeys! It’s great.)

It’s a quick read – I have a hard time believing that some of these ebooks are actually as long as they say they are – or perhaps 419 Kindle pages aren’t as long as 419 real pages, I’m not sure.

Regardless, it was a fun little romp, and free if you have Kindle Unlimited. I’m even more eager to read Colorless, now!

From the cover of Ensnared:

A Near Future Retelling of Beauty and the Beast

Alainn’s father is not a bad man. He’s a genius and an inventor. When he’s hired to create the robot Rose, Alainn knows taking the money is a mistake. 

Rose acts like a human. She looks exactly like Alainn. But, something in her comes out wrong.

To save her father from a five year prison sentence, Alainn takes Rose’s place. She says goodbye to the sun and goes to live in a tower no human is allowed to enter. She becomes the prisoner of a man no human is allowed to see. 

Believing that a life of servitude lies ahead, Alainn finds a very different fate awaits her in the company of the strange, scarred recluse.

Book Review: Never Never

neverNever Never
Brianna R. Shrum
Fairy-tale Retelling (Fantasy)
356 pages
Published 2015

Where do I start with this one? I had ups and downs with this book. It’s a retelling of Peter Pan, from Captain Hook’s viewpoint. And it reveals that James Hook was actually a boy taken to Neverland who thought it was going to be temporary, but then Pan refused to take him home.

I LOVE that it showed Hook as a sympathetic character. And in my interpretation, Hook is still that lonely 13-year-old boy that Pan stole, artificially aged through the tricks of Neverland. Being a 13-year-old boy explains the hysterical fear of the crocodile, and the blind rages at Pan. He’s still a child, without the emotional maturity of a man, and that explains a lot of his actions in the original Disney movie. (Which is incorporated in the last part of the book.)

I was disappointed in the ending of the book. Not in the writing – the writing was fantastic – but in the actual events. I wanted a different ending. (I’m trying not to spoil too much!)

And Hook’s romance – well. It was unexpected, but it made sense, and I enjoyed it. For a while it was the only pure thing he had, but even that was spoiled by Pan. Hook really just couldn’t catch a break.

It’ll be interesting to see how this compares to the other Hook retellings out there, which I’m planning to read as well – Peter Pan is one of my husband’s favorite fairy tales, and I love seeing fairy tales from the villain’s point of view.

To sum up: A solid retelling from Captain’s Hook point of view – the ending was not quite what I wanted, but villain’s stories almost never end happily for the villain, I suppose. Definitely worth the read.

From the cover of Never Never:

James Hook is a child who only wants to grow up.

When he meets Peter Pan, a boy who loves to pretend and is intent on never becoming a man – James decides he could try being a child – at least briefly. James joins Peter Pan on a holiday to Neverland, a place of adventure created by children’s dreams, but Neverland is not for the faint of heart. Soon James finds himself longing for home, determined that he is destined to become a man. But Peter refuses to take him back, leaving James trapped in a world just beyond the one he loves. A world where children are to never grow up.

But grow up he does.

And thus begins the epic adventure of a Lost Boy and a Pirate.

This story isn’t about Peter Pan; it’s about the boy whose life he stole. It’s about a man in a world that hates men. It’s about the feared Captain James Hook and his passionate quest to kill the Pan, an impossible feat in a magical land where everyone loves Peter Pan.

Except one.