Book review: Unhinged by A.G. Howard

Magical, menacing and deliciously macabre, A.G. Howard’s sequel to Splintered is everything you could ask for in an urban gothic fantasy novel.

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Unhinged by A.G. Howard (Amulet books)
Please note:  As this book is the second in a trilogy, this review may contain spoilers.

If you thought Splintered was a fantastical twist on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, then you need to prepare for even more tumbles, magical twists and turns in Unhinged, the second book in A.G Howard’s phenomenal Splintered trilogy.

This time around, Anita ups the ante on the wonderful and macabre world of the recreated Wonderland we’ve come to know and pulls us into a sensuous and even darker landscape than the one we’ve been introduced to in the first book.

A lot has happened since we last left off from the book.

Alyssa reunited with her mother, who has been bound in an asylum for years; she bravely fought against the Red Queen and her band of cronies, and finally got the boy she’s been pining after for years (even though the delectable Morpheus is still hovering in her mind).

Despite this, the trouble’s only just begun. 

The Red Queen is on the prowl, Wonderland’s creatures have started popping up in the real world and Alyssa’s got her hands full trying to reconcile her darker, magical nature with her human side.

And as if that weren’t enough, she also has to deal with Morpheus (in all of his gorgeous and moth-y glory), while grappling with whether or not to restore Jeb’s memories following his time in Wonderland.

With prom night just around the corner and time running out, Alyssa will need to decide (and decided quickly) if she’s ready to fight a battle that may cost her more than the lives of those she loves.

Ah, what a sumptuous, delicious, kaleidoscope of a read.

If I can sum up the experience of this book, then it can best be described in the quote below:
“All I have to do is set the power free. Escape the chains of humanity, let madness be my guide. If I forget everything but Wonderland, I can become beautiful pandemonium.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a fan of books with parallel, conflicting worlds that scrape and chafe against each other in a bid for dominance. 

Unhinged is a book that does just that. It’s chaos versus order and humanity versus magical essence.  It’s sheer and utter madness in a world that Alyssa desperately wants to be normal.

It deals with all the internal and external forces that Alyssa finds herself battling. There’s a whole lot of pushing and pulling going on and while she’s doing her best to balance both worlds, Alyssa does find the tug-of-war maddening. 

Anita’s writing is as luscious as ever in this instalment. Dark, decadent and utterly swoon-worthy.

If you’re looking for a book that’s going to be an accurate and visual representation of the original book, you should probably stay very far away from these books. I’ve seen loads of reviews criticising the book for being inaccurate, but isn’t the purpose of a retelling or, in this case, a modern interpretation, to bring a unique and new perspective to an old story?

Splintered and Unhinged are books that I never thought of as retellings, but more as modern interpretations which draw inspiration from Alice in Wonderland. And Splintered, well it veers as far away from the delightfully-quirky creations in the original book as you can get.

Here there be all sorts of wickedly dangerous things; things that our characters will soon have to face-off in a deadly dance where all bets are off and blood will be shed. In this book, we see a more confident Alyssa – one who is still conflicted about her role in the world, but who is a lot more open to the possibility of the magic that’s running through her veins.

Her relationships with those closest to her also undergo a few changes. While she’s certainly drawing closer to Jeb, her interactions with Morpheus are none the less still very intriguing.

As infuriating as he can be, Morpheus pushes Alyssa because he knows that she’s capable of. Not to mention the fact that Alyssa feels something for him, even though she’s trying so hard to hide it:
“Smoke fills the room, gray and sylphlike, lovely in its deadly grace. It trails into the fire and forms what appear to be wings—black and magnificent. A man’s silhouette fills out the image, two arms reaching for me.

Morpheus, or a mirage?

My mind trips back to our dance across the starlit sky in Wonderland, how amazing it felt to be so free. What would it feel like to dance with him in the middle of a blazing inferno, surrounded by an endless power that breathes and grows at our will?”

Admittedly I am team Morpheus, so I found Jeb’s tendency to mollycoddle Alyssa, as well as his tendency to be way too overprotective, a tad bit annoying.

That said, it’s a testament to Anita’s writing that I don’t find myself disliking Jeb completely. In fact, this is one of those instances where a love triangle is done so well that I, if really pushed to admit, would not mind which person Alyssa ends up with.

My favourite aspect of the novel though? Is definitely witnessing how the chaos of Wonderland slowly seeps and bleeds into the human world. Anita’s created this world that is grungy, trippy and beautifully bizarre. 

The juxtaposed world is one of contrasts; a world of order and pandemonium, of malice and beauty and mostly, a world I could certainly imagine myself visiting over and over again.