Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book review: Splintered by A.G. Howard

A seductive and imaginative urban gothic fantasy novel that warps the world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and transforms it into a world that you’ve never known before.

Disclaimer: A shortened version of this review also appears on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

Splintered by A.G. Howard (Published by Amulet, an imprint of Abrams & Chronicle Books)
Alice in Wonderland – a delightful little classic that saw many of us take an imaginary trip into a world filled with all sorts of fantastical nonsense. 

It’s a world in which most of us can easily envision ourselves living in; and one where stumbling upon a tea party is an everyday occurrence.

This, however, is not that book.  

While Splintered certainly pays tribute to Alice in Wonderland, the book takes it one step further. It pays homage to Alice Liddell - the girl who originally inspired Lewis Caroll’s classic.

If I had to think of one way to describe my experience of this book, it would be like I was tripping on acid – in the best way possible.

There’s a languid, hedonistic and lush quality about this book that makes you want to drown in all the sensuous imagery contained within its pages.

You find yourself immersed in the setting. It’s a dark and seductive world filled with creatures, the likes of which you’ve never encountered before (and in some cases, probably wouldn’t want to).

It’s a feast for the senses; a world that you know is dangerous, but one that you can’t help but want to indulge in - over and over again.

And if you thought the topsy-turvy settings for the original novel was delightfully quirky, well, it has nothing on this book.  

Splintered chronicles the story of the feisty, dying-to-be-independent Alyssa Gardner.

With a rather unwelcome ability to communicate with plants and all manner of bugs, the quirky teen can’t help but wonder if she’s following the same path as her mother, and that she too, might end up being institutionalised.

The truth is that Alyssa is neither crazy nor on any hallucinogenic drug.She just happens to be a descendent of Alice Liddell, a relative who may have been responsible for a curse that has been afflicting Alyssa’s family line for decades.

When she learns that there’s more to the fictional story, Alice bravely decides to try and fix the wrongs of the past and soon finds herself in the heart of a Wonderland filled with netherlings and murderous queens.

Once she’s in, she quickly finds out that getting out is nowhere near as simple as she assumed it would be.

With her best friend (who she’s had a crush on for forever) and Morpheus (the moth-winged and magnetically attractive guide who may or may not have his own agenda), Alice soon finds herself engaged in a battle of wits.

I’ve mentioned this at the beginning of my review, but I’ll say it again: what a delightfully dark, wicked and twisted novel.

I’ve read my fair share of retellings and books that are loosely adapted from classics, but in my experience, I’ve never encountered anything quite like Splintered. 

With its beautiful descriptions, juxtaposed with dark undercurrents, I couldn’t help but fall in love.

From the characters and writing, to the world-building and unfolding plot, the beautifully fractured world of Splintered will have you devouring this book in much the same way that a child consumes ice-cream.

Anita has created a wonderful character in Alyssa. She’s a skater-punk chick with colourful hair and sports a fabulously retro, boho and grungy vintage look I’ve always wanted to achieve, but pathetically failed at.

She’s brave, gutsy and an absolute go-getter – so much so, that it does sometimes end up being to her detriment.  With her desperation to save her mother, while at the same time striving to prove her independence, Alyssa is a character that you just can’t help but love.

Her relationship with the two boys in the book is pretty well-drawn and incredibly interesting. Normally, love triangles just piss me off, but Anita manages to portray the developing relationships in such a way that you can’t help but root for both boys.

Each boy has his flaw(s); Jeb has a tendency to curtail Alyssa’s burgeoning independence by being too overprotective, while Morpheus tends to be suspiciously unreliable and sometimes downright untrustworthy at times. 

Still, I reckon at this point in time, Morpheus, with his tattooed eyes, pretty moth-wings, top hats and angsty sultriness is slightly ahead of Jeb. Who knows though, it could change at any point.   

I love the way the events in this book unfold and all the various characters we encounter along the way.  It’s clear that these netherlings are far from cuddly, some of them actually bordering on the grotesque. 

I’ve mentioned the gorgeous writing before, but just to give you a sample of what you can expect, here are two of my favourite passages from the book:
“He's a contradiction: taut magic coiled to strike, gentleness at war with severity, a tongue as sharp as a whip's edge, yet skin so soft he could be swathed in clouds.” 

And…
“Morpheus is not his true name. He is glory and deprecation—sunlight and shadows—the scuttle of a scorpion and the melody of a nightingale. The breath of the sea and the cannonade of a storm.

Can you relay birdsong, or the sound of wind, or the scurry of a creature across the sand? For the proper names of netherlings are made up of the life forces defining them. Can you speak these things with your tongue?”

One thing is certain, Anita Howard knows how to entice and beguile readers, not just with words, but with the sheer decadence of the subversive world that she’s created.

I can’t wait to read the next two books in this trilogy.

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