6 October 2018

Review - A Blade So Black by LL McKinney

Design by Julia Lloyd
A Blade So Black
LL McKinney
Titan Books, 25 September  2018
PB, 396pp

I'm grateful to Titan Books for an advance copy of A Blade So Black.

I love "Wonderland with a twist" novels so was delighted to be offered this by Titan (thanks, Lydia!) and it didn't let me down.

In this imagining of the story, Alice is a young black woman living in Atlanta. Alongside the exploration of Wonderland and the trips there and back, and the revelation of something nastier and more threatening in that world, there is a perceptible sense of worry, almost claustrophobia due to the social reality that brings. Another young black woman, Brionne, has been killed by the police.

People are angry.

Parents are worried.

Alice's mother isn't happy about her being out at night - it's not safe.

So where the blurb compares the book to Buffy (a young woman on patrol for demons that have slipped through into our world), yes that's part of it but... it's different too. Alice faces other dangers than the Nightmares that she hunts down with Addison Hatta, more prosaic dangers perhaps but no less real. What are the risks of being caught wandering in the small hours with a pair of deadly sharp daggers? You can see how that might go. Buffy might get out of this - Alice won't.

It's a refreshingly modern, refreshingly different take on Alice. All of the familiar elements are there - sometimes easier, sometimes harder to spot (my favourite was Maddi, the incarnation of the Dormouse). McKinney throws things up in the air a bit, so as well as the White Knight becoming an "armoured hottie" we have not one but two Black Knights, both with Vorpal Swords, and a considerably more athletic pair takes the roles of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

It is all, I sense,  done with a great deal of love and respect for the original material but not without criticism of the nursery bound, slightly weird world that carroll span. McKinney creates something all her own, something utterly new, fun, and above all, sharp - one might even say, vorpal sharp.

For example, when the fights happen, boy are they fights - you don't only get a recitation of the moves and counter moves, you get the feelings, the exultation, despair and fear as things go first one way then another. And the characters and relationships here are all so well drawn, too, they pull you in right from the first page where we see Alice running in fear from... what? Towards... what?

This book is clearly the first in a series and I can't wait to see what comes next. I don't think McKinney has exhausted the storehouse of Wonderland yet, but even more importantly, I think she has a lot more to say about Alice, Court, Chess, and the rest.

Bring it on.

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