Author: A. G. Howard
Release: January 1st 2013
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Retellings, YA
#1 in the Splintered trilogy
Sequels: Unhinged (#2), Ensnared (#3)
This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. 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, much like These Broken Stars, is one of those books that I've had my eye on for some time now, and suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, everyone's been reading — and loving — it, so yeah, I just had to hurry up and get it too now, right? And I can definitely see why this is getting so much hype and love.
I really love Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, even though I only ever read the English original some days ago, but I've always been fascinated by the tale my whole life. I've always loved any retellings or spin-offs, and I think this is definitely one of my favorites. What I loved best is possibly that Howard still maintained the norm of including songs and melodies into her novel. There's Morpheus' Lullaby that spans the whole novel and various other songs, and the songs are probably what I loved most about the original, so I was extremely happy that Howard included them into her retelling as well.
Other than that, I'm also very amazed by the changes she's made. This isn't just a shabby retelling, Howard actually reconstructed Wonderland in wondrous ways, what with Rabid White and all that, and especially how little Alice actually ties into all of it. The little tweaks and turns are what made this such an amazing reading experience, since they enable the novel to become something fresh, original and new despite being considered a "retelling." So, I give the author A+ with a star on world-building.
But Howard also included a likable and strong cast of characters into her novel that is able to hold up the big expectations of the world she created. Alyssa is a unique, wild heroine, and reminded me very much of Kaye from Tithe. However, she still manages to outshine Kaye because she has way more diversity to her character. She never truly grew on me so that I'd say I loved her, but I did grow enormously fond of her. Now, Morpheus was probably my favorite character after Alyssa herself, because he too has a wide range of emotions and motivations, with a sprinkle of mystery and shadow concerning his true motives on top of it — just my thing. I liked that despite all his flaws, and he has many, he's still a truly admirable, redeemable and loyal character underneath it all, and his clashing and warring feelings inside himself called out to me. I couldn't help loving this guy, really. So, two out of the three main characters are wins for me, what about the third? Well, let's start by saying that I don't have anything against Jeb himself, however compared to Morpheus, he doesn't show such a colorful display of emotions as he does, and in the end, that's what made me not care for Jeb. In the beginning, I quite liked him, at least well enough, but after a while, he kind of got on my nerves. Always too overprotective over Alyssa and never believing in her enough to take care of herself and always wanting to be her knight in shining armor, those are exactly the kinds of guys I usually detest. Have a little faith in "your girl" and don't constantly hold her back. He does realize this a little later on, so he got better again then, but the damage was already done. Add to that sappy phrases like "You're beautiful, baby" and I just... cringe. Nah.
Ah yes, the romance. When I still liked Jeb, I kind of liked his relationship with Alyssa and thought it was sweet, but as soon as it became apparent that he doesn't trust Alyssa to protect herself and that Morpheus also has a romantic interest in her, I switched over to Morpheus's side. It's partly because, like I said, Morpheus' wide range of emotions fits better to Alyssa's also wide range and wildest desires, but it's, too, that it's this kind of childhood camaraderie turned to adult lovers that I LOVE. It always warms my heart to see this trope, that gets used so, so seldom. I'm always joyous when I do find it in a novel or TV series. Thus, I couldn't not ship Alyssa and Morpheus over Alyssa and Jeb, especially since it's true what Morpheus says, that he could help fulfill Alyssa's deepest desires and be the right match for her true character, whereas Jeb simply can't. Yes, Jeb and Alyssa are also childhood friends in a way, but I never got that true vibe of a shared bond that comes from the innocence of a partnership between two children with those two, as I did with her and Morpheus. Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing how this will play out in the next two books, I'm sure that Alyssa and Jeb will be endgame, yeah, but I want to see how her relationship with Morpheus is going to unfold. Their romance kinda reminds me of both Nikki and Cole from Everneath and Juliette and Warner from Shatter Me by the way, so maybe that also plays a little part in me shipping them so much.
The writing was really smooth and fluid, it's amazing that I truly did not notice the book was written in present tense until well after I was halfway through. I took a short break, and when I resumed reading, I suddenly noticed the present tense and I was completely confused and thought for a moment Howard somehow switched. But I checked and yep, it's been present the whole time. That's unusual for me, normally I notice present tense right away. This is the first time I've ever noticed it this late. It's alarming, and proof for her skill. Well, besides that, Howard's style was very pleasant and nice, her descriptions were especially vivid and I truly enjoyed the writing.
All in all, Splintered is a great debut novel and I'm eagerly awaiting my early copy of Unhinged that should arrive soon, and since it's Morpheus on its cover I'm hoping for some more goodness of him. If you love Alice in Wonderland as much as me, this novel is simply a must, and if you don't but like the premise, definitely go for it anyways. And if you don't like the premise at all... I don't know. Maybe you should still give it a try and see if maybe the characters and the unusual setting can convince you to like this book nonetheless.