urban fantasy

Dark reimaginings of children’s books- fun times!

This is my review of Alice by Christina Henry. It is a dark reimagining of the Alice in Wonderland universe, in which Alice and the Hatter (here, the Hatcher) are locked up for their visions. I really enjoy this kind of fiction, (okay, yes, fanfiction) and love Alice, so decided to give this one a shot.

The reason I enjoy new takes on old stories- movies, or fanfiction, or TV series- is that I don’t usually visualize scenes while reading books. So seeing new material is literally like adding a whole new dimension to an old experience. What’s not to like?

I’m not sure whether to categorize this as fanfiction – it is published as literature, but unashamedly takes characters and themes from the original Alice in Wonderland. It is unique enough to pass for a new story if the names were changed (I’m looking at you, Fifty Shades), but keeping them the same triggers an ‘aha’ in your mind and makes you appreciate Henry’s cleverness a bit more.

Alice and the Hatcher are locked up in a prison for the mentally unstable. Alice is here because a sexual assault triggered her to violence, but the Hatcher’s shady past is not fully revealed at first. They’ve been cooped up in neighbouring cells for years now, and have begun a tentative romance (that reeks of Stockholm Syndrome). They break out, but must deal with new dangers. It’s been a while since they’ve been out in the world, and it turns out that Alice’s attack brought down a very dangerous gang leader, and he is out for revenge. Meanwhile, the Hatcher’s got his own plans for revenge…

Given that this book was basically written for me, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected. The story has too many dark themes than is necessary- rape, violence, sex trade, PTSD. Having just one of these themes explored completely would have been daring enough, and made enough content for a whole book. As it was, it was a fast paced stream of horrifying situations.

In Henry’s hurry to utilize all the characters from the source material, she has neglected to flesh out the ones she does have- this is very much an action driven story.

Despite a few hiccups, I’d give this one a solid 3.5/5 and will be reading the sequels, in the hope that the writing improves with experience.

You’ve been warned

This is my review of the short story anthology Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman.

One notable thing about today’s children’s/YA authors is that they’re approachable, and celebrities in their own right. John Green has a vlog and is active on social media, JK Rowling expresses her political opinions freely on Twitter, and Neil Gaiman- Neil Gaiman is basically the hero that my emo, pretentious, teenaged self needed but did not deserve. He is unabashedly geeky and frequently drops nuggets of inspiration that probably keep tired young writers plugging along for an extra edit, or a few hundred more words.

The reason this stands out to me is that many classic children’s authors took a very different stance- they tried to teach us lessons or preach morality. Enid Blyton got a lot of criticism for her depiction of naughty black golliwogs, since the original toys were overtly racist. I’m inclined to see this as a sign of the times, rather than deliberate spite towards people of colour. I’ve read conspiracy theories on homosexual undertones in Noddy and Big Ears’ relationship, but that’s unlikely. CS Lewis intended his Narnia books to be a religious allegory, with Aslan representing Jesus, but the metaphor flew over my preteen head. Herge’s Tintin in America has several pages that so offensive to Native Americans that the book was not published for several decades. It was re-released in the 2000s with a disclaimer, and I was shocked to see panels of ‘foolish’ brown natives worshipping Tintin as a god.

With all these precedents, I’m glad to see authors being more responsible about the influence they wield over young minds.

Trigger Warning refers to the warning (D’oh) on content that may be frightening or emotionally disturbing to people who have experienced trauma, or who are sensitive to gore or violence. Say, PTSD sufferers or rape victims. Gaiman points out that very often, literature is meant to take us out of our comfort zone. The experience is not always pleasant, but almost always educational.

Funnily enough, Gaiman himself does not venture far out of his writing comfort zone. He sticks to urban fantasy for the most part. I found that after a point, the stories sort of blended together until I felt like I was slogging through the same twists again and again- not an accurate impression, but one that I just couldn’t shake off.

There are some gems in there- The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury hit me right in the feels. For best effect, listen to the audio version. There’s an interesting take on Sherlock Holmes and his bee-keeping efforts (remember, after he retires he takes up bee keeping in the country!). There’s an interesting Doctor Who story as well. But most of the rest of them were Gaiman’s usual fairytales. The book starts off with a sort of meta-description of how he developed the ideas for each of the stories. This little peephole into his brain is sure to delight any wannabe writers. As a casual reader, however, I found that it disrupted my reading experience since I couldn’t map the anecdotes to the right story and had to keep flipping back and forth.

Or maybe I’ve just outgrown his writing (the horror!)

I would still recommend this if you’re a fan of urban fantasy, or you want some short stories to dip into from time to time. 3.5/5