“What about Alice? Did she have a happy ending?”
It’s no secret that I love Christina Henry’s take on Alice and have been eagerly anticipating to read its sequel, Red Queen. Being a lover of the darker arts (I hope this does not change your sunnier opinion of me) (I am no sunny person in any way), Henry’s dark and grotesque version of wonderland hyped me up to read more from her. Yet, as all sequels are, there are bigger things to expect and my high expectations for Red Queen left me enjoying the novel less than its predecessor.
It’s not to say Red Queen is bad. No. It is as equally compelling as Alice and as linear as any story could be. It doesn’t have huge twists or big fight scenes, not even a dark, heavy moral that seems prevalent in most fantasy novels today. It’s as straightforward as a fantasy-adventure novel could be and I think I could have enjoyed the book as a child. It is lighter and it screams less ‘horror’ than Alice. If anything else, Red Queen almost reads as a children’s story and it kinda bothered me that it wasn’t as dark as I expected it to be. Alice made its mark as a terrifying version of wonderland so I kind of wanted to see more of that in Red Queen. The good thing about this change of scenery is that we get to see the characters act in a totally different environment. As Alice was about the characters facing their fears, Red Queen is about the characters learning more about themselves and exploring the world outside of their hellish wonderland. It’s a nice change from the crazy and suffocating world of the Old City (though I don’t mind seeing more of that).
“The world gobbles us and chews us and swallows us,” Hatcher said, in that uncanny way he had of reading her thoughts. “I think happy endings must be accidents.”
“But we hope for them all the same,” Alice said. She looked sadly at the remains of those hopeful faces. Above all, we hope not to die in terror.”
–Red Queen, Christina Henry
A major theme of the book is ‘Illusions’ wherein many of Alice’s encounters do not appear as they seem to be from sweet little villages filled with bread and gold to old, worn-out cottages in the middle of the forest. Even the people she meets could be deceiving. Unlike the black-and-white morality the first book portrays, Red Queen presents more morally complex characters and villains. What appears beautiful and tempting have hidden darkness inside of them and what appears as ugly and horrifying have underlying kindness beneath them. Sometimes, it’s a little of both that makes the book more thought-provoking than its predecessor.
The land outside of the Old City was supposed to be green, lush, hopeful. A place where Alice could finally rest, no longer the plaything of the Rabbit, the pawn of Cheshire, or the prey of the Jabberwocky. But the verdant fields are nothing but ash—and hope is nowhere to be found.
Still, Alice and Hatcher are on a mission to find his daughter, a quest they will not forsake even as it takes them deep into the clutches of the mad White Queen and her goblin or into the realm of the twisted and cruel Black King.
The pieces are set and the game has already begun. Each move brings Alice closer to her destiny. But, to win, she will need to harness her newfound abilities and ally herself with someone even more powerful—the mysterious and vengeful Red Queen. (Goodreads)