Ever Alice by H.J. Ramsay
Red Rogue Press
Publication Date: August 1st, 2019
Paperback. 347 pages
About Ever Alice:
"Alice’s stories of Wonderland did more than raise a few eyebrows—it landed her in an asylum. Now at 15 years of age, she’s willing to do anything to leave, which includes agreeing to an experimental procedure. When Alice decides at the last minute not to go through with it, she escapes with the White Rabbit to Wonderland and trades one mad house for another: the court of the Queen of Hearts. Only this time, she is under orders to take out the Queen. When love, scandal, and intrigue begin to muddle her mission, Alice finds herself on the wrong side of the chopping block."
Ever Alice is a book that has left me entirely unsure how to feel about it. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of my favorite books so I am always excited to check out a new retelling or story inspired by it that’s set in Wonderland. Ever Alice hit a lot of those notes and completely satisfied me in some regards, but in other areas I felt disappointed and felt this book missed the mark.
Ever Alice is essentially a follow-up to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It takes place some years after Alice’s initial adventures in Carroll’s books when she is back home with her family and attempting to come to grips with what happened during that adventurous period. Unfortunately, Alice’s family finds her insistence that the stories about Wonderland are real worrisome and eventually send her off to an asylum, which of course does nothing to help her. From here, the story takes off and through unforeseen circumstances, Alice is able to return to Wonderland.
To start on a positive note, I thought Ramsay’s depiction of Wonderland was absolutely wonderful. I think she captured that incredibly unique sense of oddness and absurdity that makes of the world of Wonderland extremely well and managed to turn it into her own story. Everything in this world is upside-down and often centered around opposites--for example, someone’s bout of good fortune might be described as extremely ‘unlucky’ rather than what we would normally call lucky, and commenting that it’s a truly dreadful day actually means that it’s a beautiful day. Similarly, added details such as everyone loving tea that tastes of oily fish or rotten eggs (and topped off with butter!) and actual animals that talk and characters such as Marco Polo that are actual eggs a la Humpty Dumpty style made me excited to see--almost never do I see retellings where the White Rabbit is actually a rabbit, Cheshire is actually a cat, and so on and so forth. A lot of retellings that I read seem to maintain a certain amount oddity, but they never quite capture that sense of absurdity that Wonderland embodies.
The characters were also both promising and disappointing. Ever Alice switches between two POVs: Alice and that of the Queen of Hearts, Rosumand. Alice was very much the embodiment of a somewhat shy and naive girl who is thrust into situations she is unprepared and manages to make the most of them and find her way. She tries to do good even when she is being pitted to do the opposite, and her development and gradual understanding of her strength and purpose were well done and enjoyable to watch.
In contrast, however, was Rosamund’s character. At first it seemed as though the author was going to make the queen a one dimensional villain with transparent goals and a lack of any interest in her as a person. Then, a little ways into the novel there started to be some more aspects of her character shown and I started thinking that she might have some sort of storyline that would make her more engaging. She was always horrible, but she had some more intriguing qualities and small side thoughts that make me think there might be more to her than meets the eye. Unfortunately, Ramsay always seemed to bring Rosamund back to her one dimensional figure and not explore her development further. I wasn’t expecting a redemption arc to make me like her, but there was so much potential for her character that I feel wasn’t explored enough.
Where this book really lost my interest, however, was with the plot. There was so much wasted potential in this story, and I don’t mean that to sound nearly as harsh it sounds. I didn’t hate this book by any means and elements of the plot were well done, but on the whole it simply lacked a major source of intrigue and coherency. Compared to the world-building, the plot was completely lackluster. There seemed to be a lot of things constantly happening, but when I look back on it I can barely even think of what events specifically moved the plot forward.
The last thing I’d like to briefly mention is that I had a hard time even figuring out what Ramsay’s target audience was supposed to be. I first assumed this was an adult book, but once I started reading it I thought the writing style seemed young due to how Ramsay set up the story and some of the actions and dialogue of the characters. However, there were also certain events and themes that occurred that felt much more mature and not for younger audiences, so I can only conclude that is for young adult audiences.
Overall, I’ve given Ever Alice three stars. I had a lot of problems with this book, but I kept reading because I did want to know what happened and I genuinely enjoyed the world-building and all of its details.
*I received an ARC of Ever Alice courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating or enjoyment of the novel.*