Review by Kelly Komm
Editor's Note: The Splintered series is now complete (with three novels and two novellas -the last, Untamed, to be published in January 2016). They all came out in fairly quick succession from January 2013 on, and have been very popular to the point of almost a cult following. Fans post art, write fan fic, hold Splintered parties and events and, of course, cosplay. Once Upon A Blog was asked to review back in 2014 when it was clear the series was a hit, but for multiple reasons I wasn't able to do it. With our new review posse coming together, we decided to revisit the Splintered series and to begin at the beginning, in case you're unfamiliar with it. You've likely seen the gorgeous cover, but there's much more to these books than 'the pretty'. Take it away Kelly!
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.Splintered is the first in A.G. Howard’s dark YA fantasy series, featuring a modern, macabre take on Wonderland. While the controversy on whether or not Alice in Wonderland is a fairy tale continues to rage on, it is always worth discussing — as are excellent novels that pay homage to it.
In this first installment of the Splintered series, we meet skater Alyssa Gardner and her punk-artist BFF/love interest Jeb. Alyssa is a descendant of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Carroll’s famous story. The women in Alyssa’s family have been cursed since her ancestor began the Wonderland adventures almost one hundred and fifty years earlier. Her mother has been in an asylum for years and Alyssa herself has heard insects and flowers speaking to her since puberty hit. As Alyssa faces a pivotal decision in her mother’s treatment, the reality of Wonderland is revealed to her, plunging her into a world both foreign and familiar. She must face the deceits that have led to her family’s curse and she is forced to choose between those who matter most.
Splintered pays tribute to Alice by continuously referencing the original and inserting various “Carrollisms”. However, the author is always careful to remind the reader that this isn’t only a story about Wonderland. Just as the reader snuggles into recognizable Wonderland territory, Howard reveals the latest emotional dilemma for transparent Alyssa. This isn’t just a girl going down a rabbit hole story—this is the girl finding the rabbit hole inside her. Alice is told through the eyes of a little girl, whereas Splintered is through the eyes of a girl on the verge of womanhood.
There are plenty of fairy tale tropes in Splintered for those who are keen of eye—there’s a list of impossible tasks, a terrible family curse, and a Changeling. Characters’ names having meaning (the Greek origin of Alyssa is loosely “not-insane”). Old friends realize they’ve always loved each other and there’s even a Happily Ever After ending. Splintered ultimately gives readers a neon rendition of Wonderland—complete with nightmarish creatures like the skeletal Rabid White (White Rabbit) and the carnivorous Octobenus (Alice’s Walrus). It balances these otherworldly creatures with predictably heroic protagonists and leaves the reader somewhere between Victorian, Carroll-esque familiarity, and post-Twilight teenage rom-angst. Had little Alice grown up in this time, perhaps she would wear blue hair pieces, thick eyeliner, and black taffeta as well. ;)
Disclosure: A complimentary copy of the book was offered in exchange for an honest review, however the reviewer used her own, previously bought, copy.
Kelly Komm is a Canadian fantasy writer. She continues to question her sanity as she holds a day job and a night job, in addition to her life as a busy mom of two. You can follow her occasional ravings online at kellykomm.blogspot.ca/