Book Review: Ever Alice
Ever Alice was published on August 1st, 2019. I received an ARC from NetGalley, but as always, all thoughts are my own.
My review contains some spoilers regarding love interests and characters.
Content Warnings: blood and gore, violence, outdated treatments for and stigma surrounding psychological disorders, parental neglect
Alice’s stories of Wonderland did more than raise a few eyebrows—it landed her in an asylum. Now at 15 years of age, she’s willing to do anything to leave, which includes agreeing to an experimental procedure. When Alice decides at the last minute not to go through with it, she escapes with the White Rabbit to Wonderland and trades one mad house for another: the court of the Queen of Hearts. Only this time, she is under orders to take out the Queen. When love, scandal, and intrigue begin to muddle her mission, Alice finds herself on the wrong side of the chopping block.
If you have been a reader of my blog over the course of this year, you will know I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the first time in January. I bring this up only because I think it’s worth mentioning that Alice is not one of my favorite fictional characters. My patience for her annoying personality and unimaginative nature ran dry quite quickly, and if it wasn’t for my own curiosity and wonder directed towards Lewis Carroll’s creation, I would have left the story unfinished (which I did with Through The Looking-Glass). So why endure another novel with her as the protagonist? Because I enjoy retellings and story continuations – and since Alice is older in H.J. Ramsay’s Ever Alice, I hoped she wouldn’t be as unbearable.
Ever Alice is told in alternating points of view – from Alice and the Queen of Hearts. H.J. Ramsay made this narrative style work so well for the story. Heightened anticipation, rapid page turning, indulgent angst; everything a reader could hope for in a story told this way was delivered. The author excelled at making the Queen of Hearts character consistently paranoid and worrisome; she is a stand out figure in this novel, as she should be. In comparison, Alice’s character was set up well in the beginning, but in the middle and even towards the end of the book her personality faltered. Is it because falling in love with the Prince became her personality? Sort of, but that wasn’t the only reason.
Many of the classic figures from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are present in this continuation, although a couple of them (the Mad Hatter, in particular, and one mischievous disappearing cat) have either taken on new personas as they are in service to the Queen of Hearts, or they play roles not exactly expected of their Lewis Carroll forms. While the inclusion of these familiar characters was exciting, the new characters of H.J. Ramsay’s creation really took center stage. The Prince of Hearts, royalty from the other three kingdoms, maidservants and advisers; these new figures gave this story its own legs to stand on, and pleasantly expanded the world of Wonderland. However, this did have an effect on how I saw Alice’s character, particularly when she became a permanent fixture in Wonderland. This version of Alice is technically “new”, but it feels like the author relied on an assumed familiarity of the reader to Alice’s character, rather than developing her persona for this new stage in Alice’s life. By no means was Alice written horribly, she was just more mediocre than expected.
One character who is not mediocre in Ever Alice is Marilyn Montague. Unfortunately, this was not for the better – this character is the biggest downfall of the book. Her only clear role is to provide conflict between Alice and the Prince, which is not necessary because there are plenty of conflicts keeping them apart already. Plus, Marilyn Montague is simply a Wonderland version of Marilyn Monroe – right down to the sultry rendition of the happy birthday song. The story would have been just fine without her.
Whereas almost all of the characters in Ever Alice are dimensional, interesting, and full of secrets, H.J. Ramsay took a more straightforward and smooth approach to the plot – which absolutely works. At the beginning, the reader is quite involved in Alice’s experience in the insane asylum to which her parents admitted her, and then her brief return to Wonderland sparks a whimsical magic akin to Lewis Carroll’s story. Her return to life in the asylum, and then her subsequent relocation to one in Switzerland is hair raising. The new facility practices either neurosurgery or shock therapy or both (it’s not exactly specified, but can be presumed), and Alice is the newest patient. Just as she’s about to undergo her first treatment, who comes to her rescue but Ralph, the White Rabbit, who whisks her back to Wonderland for the rest of the book. From there, the story focuses on the Queen of Hearts’ desire to control of all of Wonderland, while the three other royal houses want her completely stripped of power because of her record of beheading people (including her husband) on the fly and without evidence to any wrongdoing. This plot is superb, and moves along at just the right pace considering the antics, betrayal, and murder that take place along the way.
So although Alice’s character deserved more vibrancy, there is still plenty of intrigue in H.J. Ramsay’s Ever Alice to make this a fun read for anyone wishing to dive back into the rabbit hole.