Alice was a normal girl in a normal world, without a concern beyond looking after her little sister and the heavy summer heat
And then the infected appeared. Ravenous zombies determined to eat everything in their path until nothing was left alive. In the first wave destroyed so much and left her with no-one to trust, no-one to rely on
Only herself, her anger and her will to survive.
I can see what this book is trying to do. I can see it trying to mash up Lewis Carol’s Alice with a gritty zombie apocalypse. I can see the attempt to meld the whacky and surreal with the dark and awful. Whimsical meets horrifying. Quixotic meets macabre. Outlandish absurdity meets cruel reality.
It was going to take the characters and concepts of Alice Through the Looking Glass, even lift entire chunks of Carrol’s dialogue and twist it into a desperate, gritty, horrifying fight for survival against the undead horde with lots of gore and loss
That’s a pretty tall order for any book.
And in places this book almost approaches it. I was amused by Catherine Pillar and her zombie killing magic mushrooms. Hare and Hatter weren’t too bad.
But that, sadly, is the limit of what it does manage it. Everything else – the Duchess, the Red Queen, the Cheshire cat (ye gods that was poor – a guy who grinned called “Chez” wasn’t enough, you have to actually have someone say he grinned like a Cheshire Cat? What’s the point of a melding/homage if you directly reference the source material like that?) was terribly convoluted or jarring. It didn’t work, it didn’t work at all.
It wasn’t silly enough, surreal enough or funny enough for the Lewis Carrol elements to work. The imported dialogue was clunky, grossly out of place and felt less like a homage and more like the author had hit their head – or the characters had. The references where either twisted sufficiently into the setting as to make them little more than a name or a reference (like the Mock Turtle or Gryphon) or so grossly out of place as to just break the whole scene – like the Queen of Hearts and her headchoppy silliness. This could work if it were more silly, if it were more absurd and ridiculous and laughable. It could have worked – but it wasn’t. The story wasn’t surreal enough to be intentionally ridiculous – it ended up just being plain ridiculous.
The same goes for the grittiness. We have the gore and the grief and the desperate battle for survival. We even have Alice who could be an interesting character – losing a beloved family member very early in the zombie apocalypse she is consumed by grief, guilt and hatred for the one she deems responsible for the death. She then goes through a series of traumatic disasters, sees groups form and die very quickly on the very first day. It’s actually quite realistic how it would happen – as she is a desperate fleeing survivor multiple times as various people try to come together only to be destroyed over and over again.
Alice burns out quickly. Her compassion, her empathy, her sense of any kind of duty towards others is dead by the end of the first day (kind of, the time line in this is awful). Alice cares about survival and revenge. She owes no loyalty to anyone else. Any affection she shows anyone is shallow and short lived. She has the same kind of burn out that you usually find in dystopian protagonists after a long period of loss and tragedy and it actually really works. I can really believe this character who really just doesn’t care any more – I can even believe and be impressed by this character who is actually willing to burn what little shreds of civilisation are left in order to get her revenge – because that’s all that matters now. Not survival, not friends, not colleagues who are hurting, not the future of the human race – that hatred, that need to kill, is the only thing keeping her going. It’s dark, it’s gritty and everything will burn, everything will fall and Alice does not care – she will revel in the ashes even if it ends up in her own death
It’s that dark and it could have been really well done. And in this darkness, in all this bleakness and loss and rage and hatred and coldness they drop the Red Queen who yells off with her head or the Duchess and Alice having a dialogue that has been lifted directly, word for word, from Lewis Carrol. And the silliness breaks any pretence of this darkness working.
The two sides of this book are at war – and it’s a war that destroys both sides. We get the zany and the silly and then in walks Alice shooting people in the head because she has no reason to live. We have Alice reflecting that she barely cares whether she lives or dies and even those closest to her mean so little – and then there’s a nonsense quote from the duchess.
There are problems with the grittiness too – it’s too fast. Alice not only burns out in a day, but in about a week she becomes incalculably lethal with her pistols – always aiming for the head and she never ever misses. It becomes her thing. She goes from never having used a gun to Rambo in, at most, 10 days.
I think Chez is a POC – he has few lines and no prizes for guessing what happens to him. There are no LGBT people but Catherine Pillar throws out a few lesbian jokes to work on Alice’s convoluted quotes and the Victorian use of the word “queer”.
I would say it is an interesting concept – but, honestly, I’m not sure it could have ever worked. The two elements are just to disparate, one would have to be toned down or abandoned because together I don’t know if they could ever produce a coherent book.