Welcome to the real Wonderland…
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. (Add it on Goodreads)
Once upon a time, I read glowing review after glowing review for this book, Splintered. So it only seemed reasonable that when I read it, I’d find it just as engrossing.
I didn’t, which is pretty disappointing. While I liked the twisted take on Wonderland, I couldn’t connect to Alyssa and was annoyed by Jeb, and I didn’t get interested until about 75% into the book. Still, once it got good, it didn’t pull any punches—and between that last chunk of the book and the untrustworthy, charming netherling Morpheus, I’ll probably give the sequel a shot. Just with lower expectations this time.
On the plus side, there’s the premise. Alyssa’s female ancestors on her mom’s side have all gone mad, and when bugs and flowers start getting chatty with Alyssa herself, she’s afraid she’ll be the next one to check into a rubber room. But she takes the denial route, stabbing the bugs to shut them up, arranging their corpses into prize-winning artwork. That sounds like a character I could get behind.
Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there. This sounds weird to say about someone who makes dead-bug mosaics, but I found Alyssa pretty boring. She didn’t have much in the personality department, and all her attempts at humor fell flat. Even worse, until the very end, she added almost nothing to the story.
She’s supposed to be the main character, but much of the story could’ve played out the same way without her. Most of the “quests” were completed thanks to Jeb or Morpheus, and even that ended up being a much smaller part of the book than the back-cover copy suggested. Mostly, Alyssa just got tugged along for the ride and went on and on about her feelings. At length.
Also, a lot of the plot points seemed weirdly convenient. (Alyssa just so happens to find a website with accurate information on the mythology of the real Wonderland, when Carroll himself got it wrong? She just so happens to have all these repressed memories locked away, ready to flood back when she needs them?) Jeb was also problematic for me. He was
protective to the point of being controlling, and he wouldn’t let Alyssa do anything for herself. She actually seemed like more of a person when he wasn’t around.
Wonderland itself was the book’s high point, though. Howard took elements of the original story and warped them, creating something new that still paid homage to its source. The White Rabbit becomes Rabid White, the jabberwocky becomes a jabberlock box, and so on. The Twid sisters, half-spider soul keepers of Wonderland, were probably my favorite addition Howard made.
Then there was Morpheus. This guy had all the personality the other characters lacked, and he wasn’t shy about it, either. Personally, I love a morally ambiguous character, and the self-serving but charming Morpheus delivered on that. He’s the kind of character you know you can’t trust, but find compelling anyway. For me, he was the book’s saving grace. In fact, if Oscar Wilde had been a straight, blue-haired netherling from Wonderland with some seriously dubious trustworthiness and a penchant for accessorizing with dead moths, I imagine he would’ve been a little bit like good old Morph.
Ultimately, Splintered wasn’t all I was expecting—but there are loads of other reviewers who loved it. Because I’m willing to give the sequel a shot for the sake of Morpheus and Wonderland, I think it’s only fair to give it three of five stars. I’d recommend this one to fans of the original Wonderland, plus big fans of world building.