Book Review: ALICE TAKES BACK WONDERLAND

Welcome to the third and final review of the Curiosity Quills September releases blog tour! Today we shall examine an addition to the ‘dark, re-told fairy-tale’ genre, the release by author and Lewis Caroll-enthusiast David Hammons. Onward!

Sept Review tour

Let’s start with what I liked–which is what I will always do unless a book is aggressively bad. ALICE TAKES BACK WONDERLAND is a fairy-tale mash-up in the theme of “Into the Woods” or the show “Once Upon A Time”, with more than a few parallels to the 2010 Tim Burton film. Here, Alice is almost an adult and must return to the possibly imagined, but actually quite real world of her youth to save it from destruction. Along the way she meets many fairy-tale characters, who are also real and many of whom are just as surprised to find out that she is real, too. There’s something compelling about the idea that one person’s fantasy is another person’s reality, and Mr. Hammon explores this idea in an almost sci-fi/fairy-tale combo I haven’t seen before.

I enjoyed Mr. Hammon’s interpretation of many of the fairy-tale characters now common in all media–I believe it takes a brave soul to put their own spin on personas so widely used. My personal favorite was the all-too-brief appearance of a certain Queen Charming (who’s actual identity I won’t spoil), with her authority, presence, and diplomacy befitting that of a fairy-tale queen. One of my favorite quotes from her:

“To color an invasion with a just cause doesn’t make it any less of an invasion” (p.195).

(Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for strong, female rulers, as any of my once and future beta-readers will attest. Also anyone who has heard me complain about THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING, a book I wanted so badly to like. Grrr.)

That said, not all the characters worked for me–the narrator, Alice, supposed to be 17, but her dialogue and mannerisms match that of someone at least 5 years younger. Add that to the shotgun she supposedly knows how to fire, and the whole thing becomes very odd, and even a bit uncomfortable with her romance side-plot.

The beginning of the book is very tragic and I got excited, hoping that the book would dive into the issues of imaginative kids not fitting in with society’s ideas of ‘normal’ and the loss of innocence, but the book plows on and the emotional resonance is lost for the sake of getting to the meat of the plot. There’s a fine line between wallowing in angst and letting an emotional moment have the ‘screen time’ it deserves, and while I appreciate Mr. Hammons’ demonstration of the unforeseen consequences of living in a fairy tale, too often they are rushed and don’t have time to breathe–with the notable exception of the tale of a certain puppet who wants to be a real boy. Actually in general I think the pacing is a bit ‘off’, with the book sort of wandering back and forth until just under half-way through, whereupon it focus in and zips along, only meandering a bit until the appropriately epic finale.

Along the same vein, the ending is a little too clean and easy for my liking–I know the ‘happily ever after’ thing is a practically a fairy tale invention, but given that the rest of the book strives for new angles and greater complexity I had a hard time swallowing the”everything is wonderful” conclusion tied up with a bow. For me, part of the fun of re-writing fairy-tales for an older audience is making things darker, grayer, and less fixable, but perhaps that wasn’t Mr. Hammon’s point. Perhaps this book is more of a love-letter to the childhood self, and to everyone’s desire to win back the Wonder we’ve lost.

All in all, ALICE TAKES BACK WONDERLAND is an often interesting, sometimes meandering take on the tales that have filled our lives and imaginations for centuries. If you like fairy-tales retold for teens and adults, give it a whirl!

Available on Amazon.

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