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Alice by Christina Henry

book cover of Alice

There's a certain dreamlike quality about this book that makes it best read in one setting. Thankfully it's also fairly short (as I was starting, my Kindle estimated it'd take me two hours to reach the end), so it's doable. I read the first third of this book a bit at a time, and I found it hard to get into. The characters of Alice and Hatcher seemed rather closed-off and hard to get to know, and there was a lot of graphic, disturbing sexual violence. Like, we are talking creepy serial killer levels of perversion. I didn't get the impression that the author was including all of this because she thought it was titillating or edgy (quite the opposite, really – she dwelt more on the aftermath than the acts, and conveyed the horror well) but more to emphasise that this is well and truly a Crapsack World as well as to provide context for Alice's own experiences. Nonetheless, I was very guarded reading this book for a long time.

Once I decided I had a couple of hours free and would use them to read this book through to the end, my enjoyment of it increased immensely. Over the course of the novel, Alice and Hatcher – who had begun as prisoners in an old-timey insane asylum, having forgotten most of their lives from before – are filled in about the events missing from their memories and given a sense of purpose. Alice transforms from a confused, helpless young woman to a dedicated force of nature. Hatcher doesn't really change that much, but as Alice warms to him – and learns about his tragic past – so too does the reader. The novel follows them as they defeat a string of foes, conveniently led from one lair to the next by a series of irresistible clues, before finally encountering the Jabberwocky – the terrible villain whose reawakening led to their flight from the insane asylum in the first place. One subplot, that concerning Hatcher's daughter, is conveniently left unresolved to as to leave material for a sequel.

This book will not be to everyone's tastes. If you do not want to read a book where nearly every scene concerns rape, the fear of rape, or the aftermath of rape, you definitely should not read this book. On the other hand, if you enjoy seriously dark works of fiction, which examine the worst and cruellest sides of the human spirit, but nonetheless take the side of good people against evil… you may well like this. I would have given it three and a half stars, but since I can't I'm rounding up.

★★★★

a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.