Series: Splintered (#1)
Author: A.G. Howard
Genre: YA paranormal, fantasy
In short: well-researched and true to the Alice story, but not all that great overall.
Goodreads: This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.
Splintered follows Alyssa Gardner, a descendant of Alice Liddell, who’s the original Alice in the Lewis Carroll story. Ever since Alice, though, the women in the family all turn out insane at one point or the other. Alyssa’s mother reveals that the insanity is a curse, and she has to travel to Wonderland to break it. With her friend and crush Jeb, Alyssa heads out to Wonderland to save her mother and herself.
Since I have a lot of thoughts about this book, let’s split up into the good and the bad.
The strongest point of this book is the setting. It’s a lot darker than the original Alice, more reminiscent of Tim Burton than Lewis Carroll, but it does feature a lot of the same characters and the same land, in essence. Wonderland is described in great detail, and as I’m someone who’s always loved the story, it really went down well with me. My favourite is the way the author shows that Carroll ‘warped’ Wonderland into something much tamer, and what Alyssa sees is far more terrifying than in the story. It’s clear that a lot of effort has gone into the concept of Wonderland in Splintered, which I sincerely applaud. Dark!Wonderland is all the rage since Tim Burton’s movie, and it’s great to see that some authors can really pull off the setting.
The plot in itself was engaging as well, although it did get a bit repetitive, and at one point I had to wonder, was she doing this for her mom, or was it an extension of the love triangle?
And then there’s Morpheus. I’m a sucker for intriguing mystical immortals, and Morpheus is a great example of that. He’s got all the characteristics of one too, you know, the brooding, mysterious one with the connection to her past, the one she’s drawn to despite everything? Yeah. He’s a regular Keenan, and I love me some Keenans.
The worst part about this book for me? Jeb, hands down. I get that he’s her best friend and that he likes to have control in his life because of his past, but his older-brother behaviour really got on my nerves. For majority of the journey through Wonderland, he’s telling Alyssa what she can and cannot do—really, Jeb? Is she the descendant of the original Alice, or are you, huh? Back off. What made it worse is that Alyssa didn’t stand up for herself either. When Jeb says, “Alyssa!!!! You could’ve been KILLED!!!!”, it somehow doesn’t occur to her to say, “Well, do you want us out alive or not?” If I’d been Alyssa, I would’ve punched him for the number of times he tried to dictate everything. Morpheus is really the only one who says Alyssa’s capable and that she shouldn’t be babied (thanks Morpheus, you rock). Also, the number of times Jeb says Morpheus can’t touch her? Um. Yeah, she can tell him herself. I might’ve cut this bit some slack if Alyssa had called Jeb out on his annoyingness, but NO.
And of course, there’s the love triangle. WHY. I’ve read far too many books with similar love triangles: the heroine, the best friend/one she’s known forever who’s super trustworthy and is wow-oh-so-wonderful, and the mysterious dude she’s drawn to who can show her her powers. It’s sort of a YA cliche, and in this situation, you’re either Nicki Beckett or Clary Fray. Not only is this trope just the sort of thing to get on my nerves, it feels like the triangle takes up way too much of the story.
I also feel like the memories Alyssa has of Morpheus, when he teaches her about Wonderland, aren’t exactly well-explained. There are several situations in the book where Alyssa knows what to do because of a memory, but we don’t get to read the memory. Instead there’s some random reference to Morpheus, implying that she knows because of a memory. I didn’t quite understand if the memories came in flashes at just the right time for her (which is how I saw it, and seemed sort of unrealistic to me) or came as a flood in the beginning. I get that revealing every memory bit à la Mara Dyer wouldn’t have made sense, but I still felt a bit off about it.
The other things that bothered me were pretty small, like the way Jen talks (she just talks so strangely. In the five lines she says, she sounds like the author tried to spew punkishness and cool-kid-talk—’fark’? Who says ‘fark’?) and a couple of typos I found. Typos don’t really bother me all that much, so just the fact that I noticed these enough to highlight them should tell you how engaged I was in the story…
To be frank, I was thinking of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea 70% of the time and hoping it’d be better. I think I’ll wait till reviews convince me about the second book in the series.