author: A.G. Howard
format: Kindle ARC
buy it: Amazon Goodreads B&N
rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].
recommended for: Fans of Alice in Wonderland (duh), Everneath and Everbound by Brodi Ashton, and The Archived by Victoria Schwab.
My Ratings Explained
That would be easier without her mother, freshly released from an asylum, acting overly protective and suspicious. And it would be much simpler if the mysterious Morpheus didn’t show up for school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest in the dark, challenging Wonderland—where she (partly) belongs.
As prom and graduation creep closer, Alyssa juggles Morpheus’s unsettling presence in her real world with trying to tell Jeb the truth about a past he’s forgotten. Glimpses of Wonderland start to bleed through her art and into her world in very disturbing ways, and Morpheus warns that Queen Red won’t be far behind.
If Alyssa stays in the human realm, she could endanger Jeb, her parents, and everyone she loves. But if she steps through the rabbit hole again, she'll face a deadly battle that could cost more than just her head.
the basicsSplintered was a favorite book of mine last year, for its magical landscape and compelling characters. I may not like Unhinged as much as the original, but it delivers on the promises of a good sequel: character growth, increased plot twistiness, and new heights of imagination that make it much more than just the first book again. I think my main disappointment was the focus on Earth rather than Wonderland. Given that, Unhinged shares many of the positives that drew me so strongly to Splintered. Howard's gift for imagination and whimsy is unfathomable. This book introduces new creatures, new secrets, new Wonderland strangeness. We also learn loads more about the history of Alyssa, her mother, her father, and Morpheus, which raises the stakes of the Red Queen's dominion and also kept me as reader constantly guessing and surprised. The plot picks up a bit slowly, but once Morpheus comes to visit, we're caught in Wonderland intrigue, near misses, a game that Alyssa must play though she doesn't fully understand the rules. Always, I found myself cheering for Alyssa and sympathizing with her major conflict: choosing Jeb and a human life, or giving into her viciously strange Wonderland instincts. The final battle is thrilling and races into a shocking end that gives some closure but also sets up the next book perfectly. I'm already itching for book three.
plot . 4/5I wasn't as instantly drawn into the plot as I had been in book 1. For a while, Alyssa is on Earth and distantly aware that strange things are afoot, but mostly gaga over sweetie Jeb. There's some angst over missing Wonderland, but she seems fairly content. It's when Morpheus forces himself into her life that the plot really picks up. (Plus, I do have a soft spot for the blue-haired bug.) It's then that we realize that Red's battle has come to Earth. She's building an army and no one is safe. Alyssa's strange paintings that create themselves hint at an answer, but when some are stolen, it's a race to learn the truth of the future before Red does. Allison's also clearly up to something secret, though how sinister is unclear. The plot hits its sweet spot when Wonderland leaks into Earth and Alyssa must fight to protect her loved ones without compromising her Earthen life. I loved watching Alyssa grow into her powers and take ownership of her own duty. It's also clear throughout that everyone is lying to everyone, making the book a puzzle that I enjoyed piecing apart. All the betrayal and intrigue culminates in an epic glow-in-the-dark battle that brings both of Alyssa's worlds clashing together. I can't spoil, but the ending was one of the cleverest routes Howard could have gone.
concept . 5/5Last year, I gushed over Splintered, A.G. Howard's first retelling of the Alice story. Alice has been done a lot, but certainly not to death. Howard finds a new niche for herself in the genre by taking a cue from Tim Burton and darkening up the whimsy, but also interpreting the story in her own way. What if Carroll got some things wrong? What if the White Rabbit was actually a creepy little antlered creature called Rabid White? What if the hookah-smoking caterpillar grew up into a hookah-smoking butterfly? We also have terrifyingly whimsical additions, like the menacing Sisters Twid; tulgey wood that takes in lost souls and spits them out mangled; life-magic oaths that bind underlings to their fates. Using the source material in this way allows Howard's own creativity to shine through, while still honoring the legend.
characters . 5/5I loved Alyssa before and I only grew to love here more here. She's still feisty and determined, but we also see how much her journey has changed her. Now that she's tasted Wonderland, the dance between her two lives creates conflict that carries through the whole book. She has Jeb and Morpheus each pulling her towards a certain life, and experiences a feeling of tearing in two that drives a lot of the conflict. We also see Allison (Alyssa's mother) take a place center stage. She's no longer the quiet asylum ghost that she was. She's back as mom, protector, disapprover of fishnet tights--and she's still connected with Wonderland in ways that Alyssa doesn't understand. The revelation of Allison's secrets was one of the most satisfying parts of the story. Do I even need to mention how much I love Morpheus? He's obviously selfish and stalkerish, but also so vulnerable. The fact that Alyssa recognizes and calls out his bad behavior makes me less nervous about the actually-bad bad boy. Jeb is pretty sweet and wonderful too, but something about him strikes me as off. Not as a character, but as a person. I think I'm just team-Morpheus and Jeb suffers for it.
style . 4/5Howard's style is simple and satisfying. I'd like to see a little more lyricism and some more care taken with dialogue, but don't mistake me and think I'm saying her style is bad. It's just not my favorite. However, there are many aspects I love about it. It's cheeky, witty, and whimsical. She has Morpheus' voice nailed perfectly, down to the illogical logic and the sexy banter. Speaking of illogical logic, she's also quite masterful at filling her writings with mysteries and riddles that add to the atmosphere. What I could do without is the extensive descriptions of clothing--even though Alyssa's prom dress sounds fabulous.
mechanics . 5/5Besides the excessive clothes descriptions (why hello, George R.R. Martin), I don't have much to complain about. After the slight slowness of the beginning, the pacing is well done throughout. She ends it at a perfect moment and gives you just enough hint to the next book. Everything was also polished and nicely edited. I appreciate a writer who doesn't mince words. I'm also in obsessive love with the cover.
take home messageAn formidable sequel, Unhinged captures the sinister whimsy of the original and exhibits the growth and sophistication of Alyssa and her world.
Note: I received this copy in exchange for review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.