25 May 2020

Review - Looking Glass by Christina Henry

Looking Glass (The Chronicles of Alice, 3)
Christina Henry
Titan Books, 21 April 2020
Available as: PB, 336pp, e, audio
Read as: PB advance copy
ISBN: 9781789092868

I'm grateful to Titan Books for an advance copy of Looking Glass to consider for review.

Following from Alice and Red Queen, Looking Glass sees Henry return to her Alice-In-Wonderland inspired world, this time with a collection of four novellas featuring Alice and Hatcher - and one focussing on Alice's sister, Elizabeth, living in the New City.

In the first story, Lovely Creature, Elizabeth seems in danger of falling as Alice fell - blundering into the Old Town, being made use of, and then rejected by her parents. Henry cleverly gives us more insight into Alice's early life while making it clear that Elizabeth is not just a substitute Alice (even if that's how her parents see her). Yes, we encounter the Jabberwock. Yes, there are hints scattered around - like the creepy Mr Dodgson - that we're in the same world. But stories don't all end the same way and Elizabeth is determined to shape her own, whatever happens rot her. I hope we'll meet her again.

Girl in Amber sees Alice take centre stage. She and Hatcher are travelling through the wilderness, looking for somewhere to call home. But it's not easy. Winter is closing in, Hatcher can't be with other people too much, Alice can't survive in the wilds. So a mysterious building looming out of a snowstorm should be welcome, no?

This story really sees Alice come into her own, and its tender and insightful portrayal of the relationship between her and Hatcher - two half-broken, half-mended people - is a (painful) joy to read.

When I First came to Town is the exception here in that it takes places before the events of Alice and Red Queen. Hatcher has learned now to trust enough, has healed enough, to tell Alice about his early life - before the asylum, when he was a boy called Nicholas who was keen and hungry, training in a boxing gym to take on the most fearsome bruiser in the Old City. The Grinder, though, works for Rabbit and making his acquaintance will come at a cost. Perhaps the closest story in tone and mood to the earlier books, When I First came to Town goes some way to explaining Hatcher's fall and the hurts done to him - as well as telling us more about the Old and New Towns and the varieties of men and women who live there. A brutal story that spares nhe reader nothing, it was my favourite here.

Finally we come to The Mercy Seat in which Alice and Hatcher, crossing the mountains to find their safe place, come across a self-righteous, hypocrisy-ridden village which will destroy them if it can. It's a simple story and shows both coming into more knowledge of what they can do (and what they can't).

I loved these stories. They're distinct, but taken together, give an overall picture - like the mirror of the title, they give us a reflected view of Henry's Alice world, mixing viewpoints, making the large small and the small large, hinting at what else might come and planting some seeds. Ideally read after the other two books, they could still serve as a taster to this world, and there are many places where you'll post a sly Wonderland touch, whether integral to the plot (as with the Rabbit) or - seemingly - just placed there to be spotted.

Great fun, and I especially enjoyed revisiting this world.

For more information about Looking Glass, see the Titan Books website here.

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