Amulet Books, 2013
Alyssa Gardner hears the thoughts of plants and animals. She hides her delusions for now, but she knows her fate: she will end up like her mother, in an institution. Madness has run in her family ever since her great-great-great-grandmother Alice Liddell told Lewis Carroll her strange dreams, inspiring his classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
But perhaps she’s not mad. And perhaps Carroll’s stories aren’t as whimsical as they first seem.
To break the curse of insanity, Alyssa must go down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Wonderland, a place full of strange beings with dark agendas. Alyssa brings her real-world crush – the protective Jeb – with her, but once her journey begins, she’s torn between his solidity and the enchanting, dangerous magic of Morpheus, her guide to Wonderland.
But no one in Wonderland is who they seem to be – not even Alyssa herself…
I wanted to love this one. I’d been eagerly anticipating it, ever since I heard of it a good half a year ago, and avoided reading early reviews of it so as to remain completely unspoilered.
Perhaps that was a bad idea.
Let’s start with the things I really did like.
One of the best things about the original Wonderland is how rich and quirky and visually striking it is. Howard takes all that, gives it a Tim Burton-esque twist, and ends up with something darkly, creepily beautiful that’s recognisably Wonderland but very much her own. I am not a particularly visual reader, but I found it easy to picture everything, and I loved recognising the original characters in their new incarnations – though I’m enormously disappointed that the Cheshire Cat didn’t get a bigger part, because he’s my favourite. Morpheus’ palace, the Tea Party, the Twid Sister’s lair – it was all so wonderfully, vividly drawn and atmospheric.
I also like aspects of Alyssa’s character, most notably her fashion sense (patterned tights and petticoat skirts and fingerless gloves!). YA heroines do tend towards Henley-top-and-jeans ensembles, which is all well and good – I mean, I dress pretty ordinary myself – but it’s fun when characters’ fashion tastes run a little more kooky. This had the added effect of making me want to reserve judgement on Alyssa, despite her oh-so-typical YA heroine traits (i.e. I’m a quiet, insecure loner-girl with an unattainable crush, responsible yet impulsive, smart yet dumb!) because it – and her bug collages – were so much at odds with the personality we were being told she had.
Also, on a completely shallow note, the cover is STUNNING.
That’s the bits I liked. The things I didn’t like?
The guys. There are two guys vying for Alyssa’s attention. There’s Jeb, her long-time friend who she’s been crushing on for years, and who has sort of been accidently dragged along into the adventure. He’s protective to the point of controlling (con), and doesn’t have much faith in Alyssa’s capabilities (con). Also he has a girlfriend (con). Then there’s Morpheus, who has blue hair, dark wings, and a definite Jareth-vibe – or Julian-vibe, for those of you who’ve read L.J. Smith’s The Forbidden Game trilogy (kind-of-pro). He has far more faith in Alyssa than Jeb does (pro) and has promised to help Alyssa get home, but he is also very controlling (con) and has his own agenda (con), which Alyssa could have worked out approximately half a book earlier if she’d just finished the rhymes he keeps singing at her. (It’s not that hard. There are only so many words that scan.)
This leads us to my second major problem – Alyssa’s passivity. She’s not exactly a weak heroine, but she spends too much of the book reacting, having things happen to her. It’s not until she’s on her own, without Jeb or Morpheus, that she gets proactive and starts working stuff out. I feel that, in many ways, this would have been a much stronger book if it had been Alyssa tackling Wonderland on her own, without Jeb.
Then there’s the decision Alyssa makes near the end. It would be spoiler-ish to go into detail, but the long and short of it is, it’s a narrative cop out and it doesn’t make sense – it’s a logical impossibility. I know it’s Wonderland, but even Wonderland is not exempt from the rule that if you change the past, you change the present/future. So that annoyed me enormously.
So, in sum, Splintered is visually spectacular, uses the Alice-in-Wonderland story so creatively, and had so much potential to be a beautifully creepy masterpiece. Instead it’s let down by the (unnecessarily) heavy focus on the romance, and a heroine who takes a long time to start standing up for herself. But… I’m not sorry I bought it, and I know that a lot of other reviewers have loved it. See what you think.