EDITORS: Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane
AGE RANGE: Adult
Join Alice as she is thrown into the whirlwind of Wonderland, in an anthology that bends the traditional notions of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel. Contributors include the bestselling M.R. Carey, Genevieve Cogman, Catriona Ward, Rio Youers and L.L. McKinney.
Within these pages you’ll find myriad approaches to Alice, from horror to historical. There’s even a Wild West tale from Angela Slatter, poetry, and a story by Laura Mauro which presents us with a Japanese folklore-inspired Wonderland.
Alison Littlewood, Cavan Scott and Catriona Ward make the more outlandish elements their own, while James Lovegrove instead draws on the supernatural. Cat Rambo takes us to a part of Wonderland we haven’t seen before and Lilith Saintcrow gives the legend a science-fiction spin. The nightmarish reaches of the imagination are the breeding ground for M.R. Carey’s visions, while Robert Shearman, George Mann, Rio Youers and Mark Chadbourn’s tales have a deep-seated emotional core which will shock, surprise and tug on the heart-strings.
So, it’s time now to go down the rabbit hole, or through the looking-glass or… But no, wait. By picking up this book and starting to read it you’re already there, can’t you see?
That was the trouble with having so many voices in your head. Hardly any of them made sense.
While I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been the biggest fan of the original source material, there’s something about the world of Wonderland that draws me in over and over again through retellings; I can never seem to get enough, so when I heard an entire anthology was being released of dark fantasy and horror stories themed around Alice and her adventures, I couldn’t get my hands on a copy soon enough! I’m so pleased to say that it was everything I hoped it would be. Many anthologies are full of hit-and-miss pieces, but Wonderland is a genuinely solid collection of stories — I really don’t think the average Wonderland lover will be disappointed by hardly any of these tales.
While I definitely have a few stand-out favorites, I haven’t broken down a full anthology review piece-by-piece in a long time (though long-time friends and followers will know it used to be one of my review trademarks!), and this seems like the perfect excuse to dive back into one of those long, thorough reviews, so buckle up, loves!
“Doors always lead somewhere, even when they seem not to. A door is the beginning of a journey. Or the end. And once you set forth upon a journal, you learn a great deal about yourself. In fact, if a journey has any other purpose I can’t imagine what it is.”
F A V O R I T E S →
• The White Queen’s Pawn
• Good Dog, Alice!
• Vanished Summer Glory
→ Alice in Armor — Jane Yolen ★★★★☆
Our anthology opens and closes with short poems from Jane Yolen, whose work I’ve loved in the past as she genuinely has a solid grip on dark fantasy tales. This poem gives us a glimpse of Alice suiting up in armor to return to Wonderland, and sets a pretty interesting tone for the collection as it quickly lets us know that this won’t be the whimsical, carefree place of childhood fantasies.
→ Wonders Never Cease — Robert Shearman ★★★☆☆
I’m not sold on the editors’ decision to kick off the tales with this one, because by the end of the collection, it remained one of my least favorite pieces, sadly. It shows a Wonderland in which multiple Alices have multiple lifelines, and each one goes a bit differently. It’s an interesting take to be certain, but I can’t say I enjoyed it much, particularly with some… rather odd circumstances surrounding infants in one piece of the story (nothing overly traumatizing, but it made me uncomfortable, which was probably the goal).
→ There Were No Birds to Fly — M.R. Carey ★★★★☆
Thankfully, the collection picked up quickly for me with Carey’s bizarro take on things. In this dystopian setting, people’s nightmares come to life and hunt them down. It’s more of a 3.5-star story for me to be frank, as I couldn’t seem to connect with or care about the characters much at all, but the plot fascinated me endlessly and there are some solid gore scenes that I know my fellow horror lovers will probably be pleasantly surprised by, too. I really enjoyed the twist ending, too, despite having seen it coming a little bit away.
→ The White Queen’s Pawn — Genevieve Cogman ★★★★★
Ahhh. This story was the moment when I knew this anthology was going to be an out-and-out success for me, because Cogman totally blew me away with how fun and fleshed-out this tiny little tale was. In this piece, a group tries to blackmail an elderly woman (who was an assassin in her younger years) into training new assassins, but there’s more to her story than they realize. I don’t know why, but I am a tremendous sucker for elderly women being badass protagonists, and this one didn’t let me down in the slightest. I would read an entire novel set in this world that Cogman’s created without hesitation.
→ Dream Girl — Cavan Scott ★★★★★
The good times kept rolling with Dream Girl, in which Wonderland is slowly being destroyed by the appearance of ‘Dream Girl’, who of course is our one and only Alice. The classic Wonderland cast has been tasked with capturing her before she can wreck the entire place, and there are some fun twists that I genuinely would never have seen coming. This was another story that I would have enjoyed more of, but it also worked incredibly well within its length.
→ Good Dog, Alice! — Juliet Marillier ★★★★★
And by this point, we’ve got three incredible stories in a row, though this one hurt my heart in the process. Little Dorothea is given a puppy for her birthday, and she names her Alice. The two go on adventures, but accidentally end up in another world, in which Dorothea’s given some unexpected help with a terrible situation she’s living through in the real world. While I’ll mention all of the trigger warnings and their respective stories below, I do want to specifically state that this story features implied child sexual abuse, and like I said… even though it isn’t graphic, it pained me a fair amount to read, but I promise it’s worth it.
→ The Hunting of the Jabberwock — Jonathan Green ★★★☆☆
Things slowed back down a little for me here, but I felt like this was a solid “it’s me, not you” circumstance, because anyone who enjoys those classic “dragon-slaying” types of stories more than I do will certainly love this one. We meet a young hero-in-making named Nobody who only wants to prove himself by slaying the Jabberwocky. As he can’t go it alone, he teams up with a retired knight, but what they find will shock everyone. I thought the writing in this story was really lovely, but I was honestly just a bit bored by the plot and thought some of the scenes near the end were rather depressing.
→ About Time — George Mann ★★★★☆
I don’t really know what to make of this one, but if it tells you anything, in the two hours or so in between reading this story and writing this review, I changed it from 2 stars to 4. I feel like it was one of those stories that just had to sit with me a little bit before I could decide if I enjoyed it or not. Little Lucy is all grown up and she feels too big for Wonderland, but when she’s forced to revisit it, she learns that a scary monster has taken over and it’s her job to set things straight. There’s a fun little twist ending that made me smile, and I just think, after dwelling on it a bit, that this was a really fun, creative spin that makes me want to read more from Mann.
→ Smoke ’em if You Got ’em — Angela Slatter ★★☆☆☆
First of all, if you like westerns more than I do — that is to say, if you like them at all, because I hardly ever enjoy them — you’ll love this story and find it a real treat. I, sadly, just couldn’t get into it despite objectively feeling like it was a pretty solid story idea. It follows Alice as she hunts the Rabbit down to make him pay for some pretty terrible crimes he’s committed — and while it’s all implied and I could be reading too far into it, if what Slatter intended is what I got out of the story, then damn, that’s pretty bleak! I might actually come back and give this story another try when I’m more in the mood for a western theme, because like I said: objectively, I think it’s probably better than the rating I’m subjectively giving it.
→ Vanished Summer Glory — Rio Youers ★★★★★
On a happier note, though, we’re back to favorites, even though this is a really odd one that I’d be curious to see what other reviewers think of. It alternates between a “before” and “after” of a man going missing; the “before”s detail his descent into apparent madness, while the “after”s chronicle his poor wife’s musings over what might have happened to him and where she thinks it all went wrong. There are some really tragic details here and the whole thing is left open to your interpretations, but most of all, I liked the way Wonderland is woven in so that it’s hard to tell if it’s an actual place, or something this poor man has dreamed up in his grief.
→ Black Kitty — Catriona Ward ★★★★☆
Another strange little story, and one of the darker ones in my opinion, though it lacks the gore and violence many of the pieces in this anthology offered. We have two twins, though we’re only reading from the POV of one of them. She’s miserably jealous of her sister for myriad reasons, so when her sister (the prettier and more beloved one) hatches a plan to escape, she formulates her own idea to sabotage the adventure. Things don’t go anywhere near the direction our protagonist expects them to, and without spoiling anything, I’ll just say everything falls to pieces in some very strange and fairly depressing ways.
→ The Night Parade — Laura Mauro ★★★★☆
I actually wish I’d enjoyed the narrative voice in this one more, because if I had, it would have been an easy favorite from the collection — possibly my #1 top pick, even! It takes place in Japan and Mauro somehow finds a way to effortlessly blend the Wonderland characters with Japanese mythology, including Cheshire as a bakeneko and Alice as a half-kitsune. I think there’s a lot that could be done with this world in general, and if Mauro ever decides to flesh it out into a novella or even a full novel, you can definitely sign me up for that adventure.
→ What Makes a Monster — L.L. McKinney ★★☆☆☆
I’ve never read anything by McKinney, but so many of my friends have been enjoying her debut series (which is an Alice in Wonderland retelling of its own), I was pretty interested to check this one out. Sadly, the writing and I did not mesh well at all, and while I think she’s got some great ideas in her head, I probably won’t be reaching for any of her full novels any time soon! This one takes place in Victorian-era England and follows a couple of characters who have been tasked with hunting down Wonderland escapees called Nightmares. The only thing I enjoyed about this story (besides the Victorian setting) was the description of the Nightmares; they’re pretty gruesome and fun to imagine.
→ The White Queen’s Dictum — James Lovegrove ★★★★★
I really love stories about stories, and in this one, our protagonist entertains the musings of a paranormal investigator who has quite a few tiny, quick tales to share. More than that, though, the entire story has this bleak and melancholy feel to it that I absolutely loved. While I saw the ending a mile away and suspect many of you will, too, it wasn’t a bad thing, because I got to watch the pieces come together in a way that really delighted me despite the tragedy of it all.
→ Temp Work — Lilith Saintcrow ☆☆☆☆☆
This was the first DNF in the anthology for me, sadly (though it’s a good sign that it took 15 stories for me to get there, when I’m usually not too shy on DNFing lackluster installments in anthologies!). It’s a spy story, which was doomed from the start for me as I really don’t enjoy spy-related stories almost ever, whether they take place in books, films, shows… you name it.
→ Eat Me, Drink Me — Alison Littlewood ★★☆☆☆
Unfortunately, this story almost had me DNFing it, too, but I pushed through to see if it ever started to make sense (and without spoiling anything, I’ll just say no, it didn’t). My friend Heather described this one as a “fever dream” depiction and that honestly sums it up perfectly.
→ How I Comes to Be the Treacle Queen — Cat Rambo ☆☆☆☆☆
Alas, my only other DNF for the collection, and I dropped this one almost immediately. I’m not giving it a star rating because I’m sorry to say I literally can’t even give you a good idea of what it’s about. As the title may have tipped off, the writing in this story is very grammatically incorrect — which doesn’t bother me at all in small doses, but when it’s this heavy-handed, well… To be fair, it was already past 4AM at the time I was closing out this anthology, and my poor, sleep-deprived brain literally could not function with this writing style.
→ Six Impossible Things — Mark Chadbourn ★★★☆☆
Not a favorite of mine, but I was relieved to see things pick back up a bit as this anthology drew to a close. While the story itself didn’t intrigue me terribly, this one features the Cheshire Cat probably more heavily than any of the other stories (besides maybe The Night Parade), and as he’s always been my utter favorite from the Wonderland cast, I couldn’t help enjoying a bit of time to cozy up with his creepy, bizarre little self.
→ Revolution in Wonder — Jane Yolen ★★★★☆
And here, as promised, we cap the whole thing off with another very quick and lovely poem from Jane Yolen. Not much to report on this one, but it was a very nice finishing touch.
Thank you so much to Titan Books for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review!
Wonders Never Cease: cancer, depression; There Were No Birds to Fly: cannibalism; Dream Girl: body horror; Good Dog, Alice!: pedophilia, sexual assault, grooming; The Hunting of the Jabberwock: animal death; Smoke ’em if You Got ’em: implied rape and child abuse; Vanished Summer Glory: cancer; Eat Me, Drink Me: animal death; general anthology warnings: gore, gratuitous violence, murder, death
Alice is black in both Dream Girl and What Makes a Monster.
If you’re any sort of fan of Alice in Wonderland, whether it’s the original source material or retellings, this is right up your alley. With a solid mixture of dark fantasy and horror, there’s sure to be something to please everyone.
WOULD I RECOMMEND IT? Yes!
— destiny ♥
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