Author: AG Howard
Genre: YA, fairy retellings, AWESOME, PNR, Urban Fantasy
Publication Date: January 1, 2013 (Abrams – North America)
Source: NetGalley Review Copy
Summary: This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.
☆: 5/5 stars – An absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful debut. A MUST-READ FOR 2013!
Review: Whoa. Definitely a solid five stars on this one, guys. One of the most breathtaking debuts I’ve read in the last few years to be sure. “Splintered” does a whole new take on the “Alice” tale, though there are some definite tips of the hat to American McGee’s “Alice to be sure. If you love “Alice” as much as I do (both the original and McGee’s versions), you simply must, must, must check out “Splintered”.
Okay, where do I start? Um. Morpheus. I don’t really usually ‘do’ book boyfriends/girlfriends (no pun intended, seriously), but uh, he ranks up there with Leigh Bardugo’s Darkling from her “Grisha” trilogy and Hannah Moskowitz’s Teeth from “Teeth” as a book boyfriend I’d totally have. Morpheus is just one of the absolutely awesomely crafted characters in this book – which makes me all the more sad it’s a standalone. Or it seems to be for now. More on that later. The character building in this debut was nothing short of amazing – beautifully polished, and everyone got their own character growth/journey arc (one of my personal benchmarks for good character building). Even Morpheus, even though he was the semi-antagonist for most of the book. Alyssa is also kind of a badass – especially with the opening pages on how she deals with “The Alice Curse” that her family has had for the last three generations. Jeb…well, I feel like he was the weakest character of the bunch, but he was still well-built enough for me to enjoy. If there had to be any last-minute fixes, it’d be building Jeb up just a bit more. But the fact that even he gets his own journey arc was really nice, so that kind of made up for the bits of weakness wherever the character building itself was concerned. Everyone got to take their own personal journey within the larger story as a whole, and when you’re tackling something as hard as redoing “Alice”…well, anyone who can do that, to you I tip my hat.
There’s a lot of pain in this book – real life pain. Dealing with parents that are far from perfect (and one that’s most likely mad), having a crush on your childhood friend and not having that requited, and dealing with the possibility that you, yourself, may inherit said one parent’s mental illness. That’s pretty heavy stuff. But instead of couching it in depression, Howard couches it in adventure and magical realism, which can be very hard to do correctly. But because she tortures the hell out of her characters and kills her darlings with glee, she pulls it off. While she doesn’t offer any solid answers aside from keeping communication lines open with one’s parents and friends during times of need, she does show that this pain will make you grow, though you yourself have to determine in which direction that growth will go – good or bad, right or wrong, forward or backward in your own life. I thought that was a very cleverly whittled bit of wisdom, and it’s not really there on the surface. You’ll have to get to the last page to figure that one out. But the fact that it’s in there at all and not as a “moral of the story” was great.
Even the love triangle. Yes, I said it. I didn’t mind the love triangle here, because both boys represent Alyssa’s future paths. Much like in books that I’ve loved this year so far like “The Madman’s Daughter”, the love triangle here is Alyssa’s fork in the road in terms of her future. Will she take her rightful place in Wonderland at Morpheus’ side? Or will she stay in reality with Jeb? Choosing Morpheus means choosing the fate of her mother – madness/mental illness, and Jeb means stability and working toward avoiding her mother’s fate. So, when an author does that – making characters actual potential routes that the character can take – with a love triangle? I’m down with that. And it wasn’t too annoying.
Finally, the worldbuilding. I absolutely love the idea of “netherlings” and how this version of Wonderland is very, very dark. Here’s where the homage to McGee comes in – I felt that a lot of the darker parts of this book that happened within Wonderland as a setting were tributes to him. Like the White Rabbit, the most obvious example. But the sensory language and imagery is enough to make one drool, it’s so detailed. It felt painstakingly built, and it generally felt like one of the most original versions of Wonderland I’ve seen so far in terms of retellings. It was that lovely.
Final verdict? If you’re an “Alice” fan, you simply must give this book a whirl. If not, still give it a try – you might find that you like it quite a bit! “Splintered” is out now from Abrams in North America, so definitely check this book out when you get the chance. It’s definitely one of the best of 2013 so far.