Genre: Horror, fantasy, adult
First published: 2015
Author: Christina Henry
Synopsis: In a warren of crumbling buildings called the Old City, a hospital echoes with the screams of the poor souls inside. Inside, 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, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago.
CONTENT WARNING: STRONG VIOLENCE, PHYSICAL AND SEXUAL ABUSE, ANIMAL ABUSE
This was the dark fairy-tale retelling that so many books aspire to be. I absolutely loved the re-imagining, the twists on the story and characters we know. It was very well written, very atmospheric. In case it wasn’t obvious, this is an Alice in Wonderland retelling.
The writing style was really… I don’t even know what the right word for it is. I want to say old-fashioned, but not in a dense or cumbersome way. But just the way the book was written made you feel like you were in Victorian London. Just that kind of vibe and atmosphere. And I loved it. It is a little bit steampunk, I think. Not heavily, but there is that vibe. And definitely London, with all its grit and pollution. It always felt like it was dark. At some point the MC remarks that it always seemed to be nighttime in the Old City. I adored the atmosphere. It was everything I wanted.
As I said before, I also loved the twists on the story. I didn’t know what to expect even though I’m familiar with the story of Alice in Wonderland and the characters, I never quite knew what to expect. But as I was reading and meeting each new character, it made sense. The twists were very well done. The story in general was very well written. It kept me hooked and wanting to know what’s going on. I wanted to find out what had happened to Alice that she couldn’t remember. How did the characters get to where they were. It was just overall a good story.
My main issue and the reason I didn’t rate it higher is because as I said, it was very heavy on violence and sexual abuse and appalling treatment of women. I’m not sure that we come across even one female character who wasn’t abused at some point. And some of the abuses were absolutely horrifying. And yes, this is a horror story and it’s to be expected to some extent. But I thought this was somewhat excessive and while it was addressed, I felt it could have been addressed more and more of the women could have been given agency and treated as more than just at most, victims of abuse and at worst, just meat. And now thinking about it, the two female characters (aside from the MC) who had some agency both betrayed the MC.
And another thing was the portrayal of men. I felt like women were portrayed as helpless victims and men as degenerate savages. There was almost this notion that all men are this close to losing it and raping and murdering. Like literally, there is only one male character who isn’t portrayed as being a moment away from either succumbing to lust or homicidal rage and he’s instead portrayed as being self-serving and a bit sadistic. So that really bothered me. I get that this was meant to be a really dark story and it explored the darkest aspects of humanity. But you can do that without implying that that’s all there is. And that all men are scumbags given the chance and all women are victims.
So, this is a good story, very well written, but I took issue with the portrayal of both men and women in it. I found it problematic and not sufficiently addressed. I still think I’ll continue with the series, but if you want to pick this up, do be aware of these things and if you can’t stomach it, then best pass this one up.