“We’re all mad here.”
These cryptic, confusing words from the iconic Cheshire Cat have been part of our vocabulary since Alice in Wonderland first came out. As Alice travels through Wonderland, we see that everyone in Wonderland is indeed mad, and Alice is the only one who’s sane… or is she?
Ever Alice opens with Alice, now fifteen, locked in an insane asylum by her own parents, who don’t believe her wild stories. Betrayed and hurt, Alice clings to her belief in Wonderland, drawing pictures of the White Rabbit and hiding them from the doctors. Then one day, the White Rabbit returns, and Alice follows him back to Wonderland without a second thought. However, this trip doesn’t promise to be a lighthearted adventure. Anything but – in fact, the White Rabbit has come to ask her to kill the Queen of Hearts.
This novel is told from two points of view, switching back and forth between Alice and the Queen of Hearts herself. Called Rosamund, the Queen of Hearts is an intimidating personality. Like in the original, the Queen comes across more as a petulant child than as a true terrifying villain, but her unpredictability does bring a level of fear. Rosamund is extremely paranoid, suspecting everyone of being out to get her, ready to sentence anyone to death at any moment. In her first chapter, we watch her behead her own husband after accusing him of being a traitor. Only a few chapters later, she learns he wasn’t really a traitor, and yet she feels no regret.
When Alice arrives at court, she is given a position as a lady’s maid to the Queen. Being with the queen at all times gives her more opportunities to kill her – but also more chances for the Queen to order her execution. Can Alice carry out the plot and save Wonderland, or will the Queen win, as she always has before?
Throughout the book, as Alice spends more and more time in Wonderland, she starts to wonder if Wonderland is really where she belongs. Is she really mad? Can she return to England, or is it a place that will never truly accept her for who she is? Is she really mad enough to belong in Wonderland?
I was really excited for this book. I thought it had a lot of potential: I’ve always loved Alice in Wonderland, and retellings, and I thought it would be interesting to see a deep, psychological take on the story, especially one involving an insane asylum. And the book definitely did explore it in some interesting ways. I really liked the worldbuilding of Wonderland – everything was completely topsy turvy. People say the opposite of what they really mean, the bedding is lumpy and scratchy, and the tea tastes like fish. Talking animals coexist with humans. The author really had fun with making Wonderland as wild and wacky as possible, and while it is confusing at first, it really does add to the feeling of madness that I think the author is going for.
The Queen was an interesting character with a fascinating and terrible backstory that I really wanted to explore. Even after finishing the book, my mind crawls with questions about her… why is she so suspicious of everyone? What made her this way? Why does she get so much joy from beheading people? The novel only scratched the surface, however. I think my one biggest critique of the book is that I wish the book had dug deeper into the psychological aspect and explored Alice and the Queen’s psyches and the Queen’s backstory in particular a bit more. So I don’t think it fully lived up to its potential. However, I still found it to be an interesting and enjoyable read, and after getting only a few chapters in, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down. For fans of classic retellings, Alice in Wonderland, or just a good psychological fantasy story, this story is for you.