Unhinged (Splintered #2) by A.G. Howard
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release date: January 7 2014
Source: e-ARC from publisher via NetGalley
In a word: An inventive series that just keeps getting better, a fast-paced plot that drags the reader from one magical marvel to the next, complex relationships, secrets, outrageous outfits, tulgey wood, Tumtum juice, and of course, MORPHEUS!
Biting my lip, I trace the cigarette-butt scars along Jeb’s bared torso. I’ve often wished he could replace all those bad memories with the good ones we’ve made together since. But now, more than ever, I realize how important every memory is, bad or good, because they shape who we become.
Splintered was one of my favorite books from 2013, and it was so much fun to get back into the twisted Alice in Wonderland world that Howard has created. If you haven’t read Splintered yet, I highly recommend reading it before you read Unhinged. Although the author does remind us of key plot points from the first book, most of the story is new and fresh and may be slightly confusing for new readers of the series. Howard’s writing is beautiful and evocative and brings to life the crazy, hallucinogenic Lewis Carroll story but with subtle differences that make these books so unique. But what I loved best about Unhinged was the growing relationship between Alyssa and Morpheus. The author takes things just far enough to whet our appetite for the finale of the series, leaving us dangling but not unsatisfied.
Normally I would give a brief run-down of the story at this point, but I don’t want to spoil things if you haven’t read Splintered yet. Let’s just say that lots of things happen in this book, but the main plot is that a dangerous threat from Wonderland is spilling over into our world, and it’s up to Alyssa and friends to stop the danger. In fact, the story is set almost completely in our world, which may seem disappointing to readers that were looking forward to more of the antics of Wonderland. Instead, Howard brings Wonderland to us, and it works just as well, if not better.
And because the story is set here, one of the best things is that Morpheus is now living in the human realm. The only way for him to be here, without humans seeing his netherling side, is to borrow a human body. Howard uses this to great effect, as Morpheus has chosen a “hot” boy to use, thus attracting all sorts of female attention from the girls at Alyssa’s school. He goes by the (not so subtle) name of “M” and wears some of the same fantastical, Victorian threads that I loved so much in Splintered, including a velvet top hat adorned with dead moths. When Alyssa discovers “M” at school, she is livid, as you might expect. Things between them only get more complicated as the story goes along, since Alyssa feels a sense of duty towards the events that are spinning out of control in Wonderland, and a grudgingly growing affection for Morpheus. Plus her “real” boyfriend Jeb is suddenly too busy to spend quality time with Alyssa, since his artwork has caught the attention of a mysterious collector and he’s about to make some big bucks. What’s a girl to do?
I think I said this in my review of Splintered, but Morpheus reminds me so much of Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Q was an obnoxious, intelligent, charismatic character that stole the show whenever he appeared, and the character of Morpheus has the same feel for me. He often has good intentions, but somehow many of his actions end up backfiring and hurting people. Alyssa wants nothing more than to get him out of her life. She has chosen to stay in the human realm and be with Jeb, after all. But Morpheus is once again trying to drag her back to the chaos that is Wonderland, and she is conflicted about not only what she should do, but what she wants to do. A surprise reveal about their relationship near the end made me gasp, and I’m so excited to see how it plays out in the next book.
Another big relationship development happens between Alyssa and her mother. In the last book, her mother has finally come home, after being locked up in a mental asylum for years. Alyssa is thrilled that she and her mother can finally connect and talk about the things they have in common, like being able to talk to bugs and flowers. But some shocking surprises are in store for Alyssa, and like many other characters in this story, not everyone is the person they appear to be on the outside.
Howard’s writing is the glue that brings all her creative and crazy ideas together. Her powers of description are brilliant, especially when it comes to Alyssa’s outfits. She lovingly describes each item of clothing Alyssa wears, and it made me want to be a teenager again so I could wear her wardrobe as well! (Check out Anita’s Unhinged Pinterest board for some inspiring pins!)
Even though I thought the plot was a bit overstuffed and complicated at times, with so many odd Wonderland characters and so many magical rules, I found it was best to just go with the flow and not think too hard about these complexities. For me, Unhinged was a magical and sensual experience, from the ethereal wings of the netherling creatures to the jeweled eye patches of Morpheus and Alyssa when they are in netherling form. This tantalizing blend of the real world and the magical one is irresistible, and once you get to the shocking conclusion of Unhinged, you’ll be dying to find out what happens next. And isn’t that what a great story is all about?
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.