Book Review: Looking Glass by Christina Henry
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Retellings
Series: The Chronicles of Alice
Publisher: Ace Books (April 21, 2020)
Length: 304 pages
Novellas and anthologies? Typically not my thing. But since this collection was not only written by Christina Henry but is also part of her incredible Chronicles of Alice world, I knew I would make an exception. Looking Glass features four new stories set in the same universe as Alice and Red Queen, which reimagines Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland through a dark horror lens. It is not a sequel per se, but seeing as this grim quartet of interlinked short tales serves as a continuation of the saga, it would be helpful to have read the previous novels.
Lovely Creature – 4 stars
This opening story was my favorite of the bunch. It follows a young girl named Elizabeth who lives with her family in New City. The first time she heard the name “Alice” spoken in their house was after the news came that the asylum burned down, and Elizabeth was perplexed by the reaction. Her father was quick to dismiss it, while her mother seemed heartbroken, and it wasn’t until later that Elizabeth learned the truth: Alice was the name of an older sister she never knew, and it was because everyone thought she was mad so she was sent away.
Clearly though, the memory of Alice stayed. Everyone says Elizabeth reminds them of her, and she’s sick of hearing it…especially from the voices in her own head. The thing is, what nobody knows is that Elizabeth has magic. And though it has helped her get out of trouble in the past, now having the talent also draws danger to her.
This story was a great one to lead with, for several reasons, and not least because it was one of the stronger ones. Elizabeth was a charming character, full of the innocence and delight of a small child. But while she may be sheltered, she’s no dummy—she knows her world is not a nice place, and there are plenty of bad folk out there who would harm little girls…bad folk like Cheshire, Caterpillar, and the Rabbit. This story also introduces the harsh world of the Chronicles of Alice, and the wealth disparity seen between New and Old City. Elizabeth is thrown into a situation where everything is new to her, and none of it is pleasant. But by using her magic and her wits, she not only manages to teach the villains a lesson, she also proves she is clever and can save herself.
Girl in Amber – 3 stars
Alice wakes up from a dream about her little sister at the beginning of this story, and we find out that she and Hatcher are between homes at the moment, looking for a place to settle down and put down roots. But before they can get too far, winter sets in and the two of them find themselves stranded in the middle of a blizzard. They decide to have Hatcher shift into his wolf form in order to scout ahead, though that does mean Alice will have to continue alone for a while. Freezing, she has no choice but to take shelter in an abandoned house full of strange horrors.
This story was probably my least favorite in the collection. For lack of a better term, it just seemed pointless—most of it was about Alice stumbling around in the snow and in the dark. Once inside the creepy house of horrors, it felt like this story was simply throwing any and all kinds of unsettling experiences at her, from scary visions to monstrous creatures, but the truth was none of it was actually all that frightening. I get what message Henry was trying to send here, but I wish she’d gone about it in a more memorable way.
When I First Came to Town – 3.5 stars
Before Alice, Hatcher had a very different life. His name was Nicholas, for one, and he also had a wife and child. When I First Came to Town is a story about how he met his beloved Hattie, flashing back to his teenage years working at a fight club trying to make enough money to get out of Old City. So when his boss sets him up to fight the hulking man known as Grinder—called that because he always leaves his opponents dead or injured so badly they never fight again—Nicholas has little choice but to accept, because the money was just too good. Luckily for Nicholas though, he has a trick or two up his sleeve. He realizes he has magic, which will give him an advantage in the ring, but will it be enough to keep in alive?
I love the character of Hatcher, and it was interesting to get this glimpse into this past, though it is difficult to reconcile the teenager in this story to the broken man he is now, since the two are so different. However, we certainly got to see where his gentle and caring side came from, and the way it led him to Hattie. Still, even in his youthful heart, Nicholas also had a steely resolve in him, which helped him face up to the pure evil in this tale.
The Mercy Seat – 3.5 stars
This final tale was all right, not the best or worst of the collection, but I do feel it deserves special attention because of the way it brings closure to the series. Chronologically, it takes place shortly after Girl in Amber, following the harsh winter in which Alice and Hatcher finally finds shelter with a kind witch named Olivia. At the beginning of this story, Alice makes a startling discovery, and knows it’s a sign they must leave to find a permanent place to settle down.
But once more, Alice and Hatcher’s journey is fraught with peril. They come upon a seemingly peaceful village, only to find out that beneath its idyllic surface, a terrible secret is what keeps everyone in line. As the two of them fight to protect each other, Alice and Hatcher realize what they truly mean to one another, and what they both want out of this life. Given this, the central conflict in this tale seems almost incidental in light of the more significant revelations and other major themes at play here, but it does end on a happy note, which I think is ultimately what readers will latch onto. After all, these characters have been through hell and then some, and it’s high time they deserve some peace. The Mercy Seat, while short, gives Alice and Hatcher their perfect ending, and so as a collection, Looking Glass earns a thumbs up from me.