Series: Splintered #1
Published by Abrams on January 15th 2013
Genres: Fairy Tales & Folklore, Fairytale/Retelling, Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Pages: 384 •Format: Paperback •Source: Purchased
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.
First and foremost, Splintered has a beautiful and evocative cover. Combined with the fact that I love fairy tale retellings, and it was inevitable that I would add this novel to my collection. Now I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve never been the biggest Alice in Wonderland aficionado, but I love the imagery and know that it’s popular enough to have inspired dozens upon dozens of retellings in the past few years. I went into Splintered hoping it would be a quality retelling amidst many lackluster ones, and found myself satisfied with some elements and disappointed by others.
The start of the book initially grabbed me. I loved the dark tone of the novel, and the creative and contemporary twists, with Alice’s “curse” inflicting the family with what many think are schizophrenic tendencies, and Alyssa’s questioning of her future sanity. The way she uses the bugs that speak to her in her art to create landscapes of wonderland scenes is incredible, and the whole integration of the classic Alice in Wonderland story into a contemporary tale of Alice’s descendants was so creative. This novel has so much originality plot-wise. Howard’s imaginings of wonderland are stunning and border-line disturbing in some instances, with incredibly vivid imagery and her own twist on every classic scene. The book takes the stance that the original fable everyone knows was drastically altered by Lewis Carrol, making it much more child friendly. Reading the scenes in wonderland, from the twisted tea party to the quasi-theological elements where souls and the afterlives are discussed (and managed by the Twid sisters…guess who they’re based on…) was a real treat, and I found myself having to read this book in a lot of small chunks to let the imagery of each wonderland scene and quest really sink in.
While the plot and setting were wonderfully creative and original, the characters in this book were really hit or miss for me. Alyssa was an OK protagonist, and I love her family history and her journey to battle her family’s curse, but at times she felt really immature to me. She’s really resolved in her anger and determination one minute (usually regarding Jeb, her next door neighbor/crush who’s really a controlling jerk most of the time) and then her resolve will diminish the next. This happened a lot during the love triangle elements, as Alyssa is torn between Jeb and Morpheus, her enigmatic wonderland companion who has deep ties with Alyssa’s ancestors. I really like Morpheus as he serves as both friend and antagonist to Alyssa, and often points out the controlling and unbalanced nature of her relationship with Jeb. Morpehus has such skewed motives, and his character is so fun to read because you really don’t know where his loyalties lie. Overall though, the romance in this book is heavily based in a love triangle that doesn’t work for me. Much of the drama in the human world felt petty, such as Alyssa’s fued with Jeb’s girlfriend Taelor (which was so pointless I can’t even tell you…I mean she’s HORRIBLE to Alyssa but Jeb expects Alyssa to extend an olive branch and accept his relationship with her? I don’t understand him. Psh. Boys.)
Yet the characters in Wonderland almost make-up for the lackluster romances. They are such twisted versions of their Lewis Carrol counterparts, and their histories wind together in such intriguing ways. I personally enjoyed the characterizations of the White Queen, the Twid sisters and this cutely revolting ferret thing. Wonderland is the best part of this book, and I thought the plot twist of how Alyssa’s family and Wonderland end up being all tied together is really creative and not something obvious or easily guessed. The language and grammar the characters use is crazily constructed and perfect for the novel, and the nonsensical whimsy of Wonderland is just portrayed so well in this book, and Alyssa existing in moments of limbo between sense and nonsense, finding her comfort in insanity and madness is perfectly done.
Overall: Splintered has incredibly vivid settings that do justice to the mad and nonsensical world of Wonderland that readers will expect, while interjecting a lot of dark and quasi-disturbing elements that make it a force of its own in a market saturated with Alice and Wonderland retellings. It puts a unique, contemporary spin on the beloved Alice in Wonderland story, focusing on Alice’s modern-day descendents and the curse that afflicts them. While there is a love triangle and some immature character behavior, the creativity of Splintered makes it an enjoyable and original read that fans of fantasy and fairy tales will really love. The book ends with most of the loose ends tied up and with the satisfaction that befits a stand-alone, so I’m curious to see how Wonderland is kept alive and the plot is woven through the rest of the trilogy.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Fairytale Retelling Challenge
- Goodreads Challenge