Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.
This book. I’m really torn about giving it four stars instead of 4.5 or five, because there are parts of it that I really love. But then there are a couple of things that annoyed me, and I deducted half a star for each. (That’s how I rate books, I’ve come to realise; I allocate them full marks and then start taking points off for things that bug me. It’s very methodical.)
Let’s start with the positive first.
Like anything inspired by Alice in Wonderland — well, anything good — Splintered has atmosphere by the bucketload. Alyssa believes that, like her mother Alison, she is crazy. She hears plants and bugs talk, and is worried that one day she’ll end up in a strait jacket pumped full of sedatives too. Even when she discovers she’s not crazy, she might as well be, because Wonderland’s laws of physics are a few ants short of a picnic, if you know what I mean. Wonderland isn’t cute. It’s bloody, strange and violent. It’s not a sweet, sunlight dream; it’s a nightmare — more Tim Burton than Disney.
Fiery and independent, Alyssa is a little bit punk, a little bit skater and a little bit goth. She keeps her hair long and blond for her father, but then does her damndest to reduce any other resemblance to her mother — whom she loves but doesn’t want to emulate.
And then there’s Morpheus, the childhood “imaginary” friend who taught her everything she needs to know about Wonderland. He’s self-confident, arrogant and presumptuous, but he also trusts Alyssa to be able to handle herself and respects her desire for independence. In fact, he actively encourages it… something you can’t say about Jeb.
Jeb is the first of the negatives. He’s another childhood friend of Alyssa’s, and she’s had a crush on him forever. It’s pretty obvious he’s got a crush on her too, but for reasons that aren’t entirely clear he instead ends up dating the popular blond girl who picks on Alyssa. I suspect his own self-loathing plays a part, as does his completely infuriating desire to treat Alyssa like a small child. Maybe he doesn’t want to date her because he still thinks she’s twelve?
Regardless, I wanted to punch him in the nose a few times throughout this book. It wasn’t just that he was protective but that he was physical about it that pissed me off. When Alyssa tries to do something he thinks is dangerous, he doesn’t grab her hand and try to reason with her; he physically restrains her, lifting her off the ground like she’s a toddler. When he sees that she has a knife in her backpack, he appropriates it without even asking. When she’s offered something during the course of the quest, he takes it before she can and puts it in his pocket. WHAT THE HELL, JEB?!
He does redeem himself somewhat throughout the book, which is why it only loses half a point for his bad behaviour. Otherwise it’d be worse.
The other thing I found difficult to contend with at times was Howard’s prose. I didn’t really need a couple of paragraphs to describe each funky new outfit Alyssa wore, or what Morpheus’s hat looked like. I found every time I hit one of these paragraphs I wanted to skip it. Likewise, some of the descriptions of Wonderland itself were a trifle overblown. Not always, mind you — but it was enough that I noticed it and it would pull me out of the story. I realise that something like taste in prose is highly subjective, and others will love it, though.
Despite these negatives, I still enjoyed Splintered enough that I read the sequel, Unhinged, afterwards. That book I loved unequivocally — it’s a five-star read from me — but I thought I’d review the first in the series here, for those who are wondering whether to try it. (You can see Heather’s review of Unhinged here.) I’m definitely looking forward to the next book, Ensnared.
(As an aside, if you haven’t already, feast your eyes on that gorgeous cover for a minute. No, two minutes! Isn’t it lovely? All the books in the trilogy have these beautiful covers. Howard really won the cover jackpot!)