Splintered by A. G. Howard
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: January 1 2013
What if Wonderland was real, and Lewis Carroll’s story was only a skewed version of the truth? Imagine a more twisted and terrifyingly strange Wonderland than the one we are familiar with and you will have an inkling of what’s in store for you between the pages of Splintered. I honestly couldn’t have chosen a more wonderful book to end the year with (or begin the new year, if you want to look at it that way, since Splintered hits stores on January 1st). From beginning to end I was enthralled, enchanted and in awe of the magical and frightening world that Howard has put to paper. The modern spin makes it even more appealing, and I have to say I even loved the love triangle!
Alyssa is descended from the original “Alice,” Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice in Wonderland, a fact she feels very uncomfortable about and tries to hide. And she’s got good reason. Her mother, Alison, is mad and has been living in an asylum for most of Alyssa’s life, due to a terrible event from her childhood that she can barely remember. And just like Alison, Alyssa can hear the whispers of bugs and flowers, proof that she herself is going crazy, just like her mother. But on a visit to the asylum one day, Alyssa gets some very important clues to her past from her crazed mother, and thus begins her adventure. Accompanied by her secret crush and good friend Jeb, Alyssa is beckoned into Wonderland through a mirror by a mysterious boy from her past, a boy who tells her that the only way she can get back home is to help him fix the mistakes that Alice made when she visited Wonderland many years ago. What follows is a wild and circuitous path through a Wonderland far more dark and dangerous than even Carroll could imagine.
And yes, there is a love triangle, but honestly, it’s a good one. Jeb is the boy who Alyssa is secretly crushing over, a boy she’s been good friends with ever since she can remember. He and Alyssa both hang out at the town’s underground skate park, Underland, which is one of those modern twists that I love so much. But when Jeb is thrust into Wonderland, he seems to be a fish out of water, a fact that makes him even more human and likable. Morpheus is Alyssa’s childhood pal from Wonderland, a creature with wings who can turn himself into a moth, a boy who has grown into a very sexy man who Alyssa has a hard time resisting. I loved the parts where Jeb and Morpheus fight over Alyssa, and I especially loved that Alyssa is torn between the two, almost as if she needs both Jeb’s lightness and Morpheus’ darkness to feel complete. Alyssa describes Morpheus like this:
“He’s a contradiction: taut magic coiled to strike, gentleness at war with severity, a tongue as sharp as a whip’s edge, yet skin so soft he could be swathed in clouds.”
And later in the story when they inevitably kiss, Alyssa has this reaction:
“His lips are salty-sweet with yesterday’s laughter…”
(For some strange reason I kept imagining Morpheus as Q from Star Trek. Their speech patterns were so similar that John de Lancie’s voice popped into my head every time he spoke!)
Alyssa herself is a wonderful character, a girl who doesn’t want to admit that she might be going crazy. She stays true to her desire to save her mother, even with all the craziness of Wonderland trying to throw her off course. She’s quite a quirky character and creates beautiful mosaics with dead bugs and flowers, which is her way of trying to block out the voices she hears. When she gets to Wonderland, memories from her past start to return, and Howard brilliantly drops these memories into the story in just the right places, slowly revealing the truth about her past with Morpheus. And as for the two boys, well, you’ll just have to see for yourself how that turns out.
Although this Wonderland is slightly off-center from the one you may be familiar with, the story is populated with many familiar, if distorted, characters. The White Rabbit is really named “Rabid White,” the Mad Hatter appears as Herman Hattington, and the Cheshire Cat is also in the story, but weirdly enough, has lost his head and is trying to get it back. Howard also uses certain recurring themes throughout, my favorite being the appearance of roses, alluding to the rose bushes in the Queen’s gardens from the original story. Every detail is carefully plotted and every word perfectly chosen to bring this version of Wonderland to life. Howard’s writing is truly exquisite and her dialog is beautifully timed. She’s either an extremely gifted writer, or she has an amazing editor (although I suspect the truth is some of both!). Here’s an example of her whip-smart dialog, when Alice meets Humpty Dumpty (or Humphrey as he’s actually called):
“What glory is there to be had in bettering an egg, hmm? Will you make of me a soufflé or perhaps have me coddled?”
“Coddled?” I ask, confused. “You mean like a parent coddles a child?”
He wriggles in the chair until his short legs almost dangle over the edge, causing the new cracks to stretch farther yet. “Coddled in water, you speck. Cooked just below boiling until my brains are scrambled. What sort of empty-headed rot are you? Do you not have a proper vocabulary? And why are you even here? Don’t see any cracks in your shell.”
There are marvels galore to be discovered in Splintered, and strangeness around every corner. The true beauty of this book is that it isn’t a rehash of Alice in Wonderland at all, but a unique story that perhaps explains some of Alice’s mysteries. According to A. G. Howard, of course.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.