My rating: 4 of 5 stars
For a while now, I’ve been wanting to read a good horror book. The problem with me is that I never really get into horror enough to feel delicious chills down my spine, usually for one of three reasons:
1. It’s too predictable and/or boringly written, thereby removing any potential fear,
2. The characters are not compelling enough for me to be horrified by the possibility of their deaths;
3. I am a heartless human being and don’t give a damn in general.
So when I read Jessica’s review of this book, I was sold ’cause
(A) It’s Jessica giving it a 5 star
(B) It’s Alice in Wonderland, what more do you need?
It turns out, I’m even more of an indifferent person than I thought I was, ’cause I read Alice and went “Is that all?”
I think it’s because I actually know the horrific aspects of this book to exist in real life, so it didn’t horrify me the way it should have. I have to concur with Jessica’s opinion of this being dreadpunk and not exactly horror.
That said, let’s get into the nitty-gritty:
Alice is extremely compelling. Whether it’s the plot – a journey of self-discovery and adventure – or the characters, who are not all there at times, but are more grounded than most protagonists I’ve seen, it makes you want to keep reading. Nothing and no-one is flawless – quite the opposite – but there is a dark beauty here that draws you in. The novel is set in the dirtier side of the city, and deals with the very dregs of humanity, but it is beautiful in a way I cannot really capture. I enjoyed Alice, her thoughts and her realization of herself, and Hatcher was an interesting complement.
Unfortunately, while the plot was engaging, that didn’t happen from the get-go. While Alice is a standard discovery-of-self-by-quest story, the interesting questing bit is rushed because it took a while to kick in. I thought the book could have been longer or the first bit shorter. In addition to that, as I already said, it didn’t really horrify me. This could be a personal thing, but except for the potential Walrus-eating-people-alive thing, I didn’t think anything was so out of the ordinary as to be shiver-inducing.
I want to talk at some length about the more controversial aspects of the book. The core of this book is strength in the face of adversity, in whatever form – a friend to lean on, killing a genuinely evil person, or belief in magic. That said, the main iteration of adversity in here is sexual and rape of all kinds is a recurring theme. It is uncomfortable, I won’t deny that, but my issue is that rape is not the only kind of torture out there. It is definitely a truly heinous act, and damaging beyond compare, but in a seething cauldron like the Old City, it wouldn’t be the only form of suffering. The world-building would have benefited greatly from expanding on this, in my opinion.
This also leads to another thing that bothered me – the lack of non-rapist male characters. Wendy Darling touches on this in her review. Hatcher is the only male that doesn’t seem to have lust on his mind and even that is questionable:
Alice looked at Hatcher helplessly, hoping for assistance. He stared at the girls under the glass with an odd, hungry look on his face.
He is a man, Alice, she thought. And even the best of men might be lured by flesh dangled so willingly before them.
I am not pleased by this kind of characterization which reduces men to slavering sex-fiends – it’s no better than women being objectified. Unless this turns out to be a feature of the way Alice’s view of men have been warped by her abusive experiences, I’m going to regard this skeptically. I’m not saying they have to be knights-in-shining-armor or good people. Villains can be evil without having to abuse women.
On the other hand, I understand why rape has been used so extensively as a device. Firstly, for Alice and the other women, this is the single most terrifying thing they know to exist, it is what defines all their actions. Even a single unwanted touch can leave a person scarred for life and nothing is more traumatizing. As I noted, Alice’s filter for the world is the experience that broke her and trapped her in a mental asylum. Some of the major villains in the book use rape as an expression of power and less as for sexual pleasure. They do it to reassure themselves and others that they remain supreme.
The other thing I wanted to address was the incident of the ‘butterflies’. The reason I didn’t react much to all this is because I already had my shock treatment when I learned about Nazi experiments and the rumored Japanese Edo pleasure tents. Once you hear about this kind of thing, it ceases to be shocking; maybe that’s just me. Anyway, my point is, truth really is much stranger than fiction, so it’s come to the point that fiction can’t keep up anymore.
So overall, I think this novel is interesting and certainly quite unique, but not different enough to warrant a very high rating. I’m definitely looking forward to the next one though.