Let me be honest with you. I’ve always preferred Through the Looking Glass to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Even so, it is rare that I can resist anything with a bit of Alice in it. There were two reasons why I requested a review copy of this book via NetGalley. Number one was the beautiful cover. It drew me in and made me read the blurb. Number two was just that blurb. The little descriptions of the four short stories all included some buzz word that made me go “ooh”. Let’s see how I ended up liking this small volume.
Published by: Candlemark & Gleam, 2011
ebook: 219 pages
My rating: 5/10
First sentence: The boy has managed, so far, to displace himself four meters off the ground.
In 1865, Alice went on an adventure to Wonderland. Today, four modern authors follow her down the rabbit hole…
This is the first in a planned series in the (re)Visions line, which is devoted to exploring the lasting legacy of classic works of speculative fiction on our genres and on our lives. In each book in the series, four authors will tackle a classic work of imaginative fiction, and give it their own spin; along with each of these novellas will also be the original work.
I read few to no anthologies or short story collections (a fault I am trying to remedy at the moment) and it may be because I feel the need to read the stories in order and not skip any of them. Reading short stories online (at Clarkesworld, etc.) has brought me enormous amounts of pleasure, though, so I thought I’d give this little collection a try. After all, not much can go wrong when you know you’re getting spins on a favorite classic, right? Well…
Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
I won’t say much about this. It is Alice as we know and love her, and if I ever do write a review on that book, it will get its own post. This was very nice beginning for the anthology, of course, and gave me an excuse to re-read it. Luckily, I can continue in my Annotated Alice which includes Through the Looking Glass. That one is definitely worth its own review…
I will talk about each of the four contained novellas separately, as they were all written by a different author.
Kaye Chazan – What Aelister Found Here
Blurb: It is 1888, and Aelister has never felt at home, not even in his own skin. Now that he’s been expelled from school, he sees no reason to stick around his house in Warwickshire, so he runs away to another world altogether: London. The city is a maze of heat and rain, where a murderer stalks the streets of Whitechapel and a Crown Prince flouts his mother’s laws, and Aelister soon finds himself dealt into a series of deadly games—ones that put his life, and far more, on the line. And while London may not be the wonderland Aelister expected to find, he is far from the only person in the city looking for that very place.
Now this is what I was hoping for. The story opens on our practical boy-protagonist in avery Alice-like style. The witty prose and clever asides were totally up my alley and reminded me very much of Victorian prose. There are references to Alice and they are very neatly incorporated into the real-world setting. While the main story has pacing problems as soon as Aelister arrives in London, it picks up once a very peculiar game of chess starts. I enjoyed how Jack the Ripper was mixed into this strange little tale, but the end came extremely abrubtly and was somewhat anticlimactic. The Alice-elements are subdued, you will recognize a lot of characters from the original. Altogether, a story that I enjoyed more for its whimsical tone and its practical protagonist than for its connection to the original Alice. Recommended. Rating: 6,5/10
Amanda Ching – House of Cards
Blurb: There’s Alice, who fell down a rabbit hole and had an adventure. Then there’s the Queen of Hearts, who loses her temper quite frequently. But before that, there was Mary Ann, a servant pressed past patience, past duty. As all three hurtle toward an inevitable meeting, a creature has broken from its coffin and is even now tunneling to meet them. When the deck is stacked like this, even the strongest foundation could crumble.
This story featured surprisingly many characters for such a short piece and the climax was probably supposed to be when it all comes together and the separate storylines make sense as a whole. But the story as such failed to grab my attention and I mostly just read on because I wanted to get to the next story. The Queen of Hearts as well as some other known characters do show up but mostly to spout nonsense. And not the brilliant kind of nonsense Lewis Carroll gave us, just plain nonsense without much humor. Except for the occasional badam-tish line that made me roll my eyes rather than smile. I was hoping for some fantasy elements but even that bubble was burst. I’ll give the writer props for the idea but I think it would have needed more characterisation and depth to work. Rating: 3,5/10
Hilary Thomas – Knave
Blurb: In the city they call Wonderland, the Queen calls the shots. If she doesn’t like the way you’re playing the game, she’ll give you the axe. Permanently. Jack Knave is an investigator, a man of many talents, an occasional blade for The Crown; and he’s the best at what he does. He knows every face in the city, every move they make, every connection. Except one.When a mysterious woman shows up in town, Jack is sure she’s not just here for the tourism. But the more he digs, the less he knows. Finding the answers means getting close to her, but she’s not the only one with secrets. Somebody’s been stealing from the Queen, and it looks like Jack’s taking the fall. Alice could seal his fate with a word—or not. With no options left, and the odds stacked against him, Jack must make a desperate gamble to survive. Whether his luck holds out or he’s left out to dry, one thing’s for certain: he can’t afford to lose his head.
Jack Knave lives in the city of Wonderland and the arrival of a certain dame named Alice turns things upside down. This is Wonderland goes noir. I was surprised by how much that genre mash-up appealed to me. But an idea alone does not make a good story. Characters may have names that sound like they are from Wonderland (Jimmy Cheshire, Jack Knave, The Queen, Kingsley, Alice) but they are walking stereotypes. I don’t read noir fiction but I have seen a few movies that fit the description. There is nothing new or original about this story. There also happens to be no magic whatsoever and the big reveal (if, indeed, it is supposed to be a big reveal) was painfully predictable. All of that said, I enjoyed the story more than “House of Cards”. The prose wasn’t a revelation but easy enough to read and the plot was fast-paced and had a nice flow to it. Probably not a story I will remember for long, but enjoyable, nonetheless. Recommended with reservations. Rating: 5,5/10
C.A. Young – The World in a Thimble
Blurb: Toby Fitzsimmons hates the creepy sculpture of Alice on display in his gallery, but when it drops him into Wonderland for real, he’s not prepared for what he finds. From real living furniture to scoutmasters and cowboys to coyotes who really do go everywhere, Toby finds himself in a Wonderland that’s more deadly, and much more American, than the one he remembers reading about as a boy. At the heart of it all is the Catmistress, who rules over the city’s dark alleys and knows the secret of the Cheshire trick. In this strange new world, Toby will need all the help he can get to find his way home. Before that, though, he’ll have to find a way to keep from losing himself. Wonderland, it seems, changes everything it touches. And then there’s the thing in the sewers…
This time around, the story starts in a modern day setting with gallery owner Toby, who spends his time as a punching bag for Hambrick, a man whose collection he’s showing in said gallery. With a little help from the Alice sculpture on display, he falls into Wonderland. I was insanely happy to actually read a story that took me to Wonderland and showed me some of its marvels. There are flying coyotes (who can talk, of course), cats who know the Cheshire Trick, depressed fountains, and bottles that say “drink me”. It could have been so nice. But the writing is clumsy at best, the characters – including Toby – are very flat, and the storyline is predictable. I did enjoy the craziness of Wonderland and its inhabitants but the description dumps and the characters left me rather unimpressed. Rating: 5/10
Overall, the first story was my favorite because it hit the tone of the original most closely and, while not showing us actual Wonderland, gave well-known characters a new personality. It had atmosphere and a good plot. I liked “Knave” second best, despite its stereotypical characters and predictable plotline. At least the idea was original and the execution okay. As a collection, I didn’t love it and wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. But if you love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and want to see its characters wearing new cloaks, this might be right for you.
RATING: 5/10 – Meh