Published: September 25, 2018 by Imprint
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
The night that seventeen year old Alice Kingston lost her father, she was attacked by a Nightmare almost loosing her life. That is until a handsome, otherworldly stranger named Addison Hatta comes out of the shadow slaying it right before her eyes. From that night on Alice is trained to be a Dream Walker protecting the Veil that separates the human realm and the Nightmares of Wonderland. From her Gateway in her Atlanta hometown she battles Nightmares alongside Hatta while her high-maintenance best friend covers for her when overprotective mother comes calling. As if balancing a strict curfew, school and best friend obligations aren’t enough, Alice must venture into the heart of Wonderland without the guidance of her handsome mentor after he poisoned. She soon realizes that keeping her head intact in Wonderland isn’t going to matter if its already on the chopping block at home!
Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite classic tales so when I hear that there’s a new retelling or re-imagining hitting the shelves I am all over it! A Blade So Black was no different pulling me in with its “Alice in Wonderland meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer” comparison. Because Buffy Summers was a complete badass, I didn’t expect anything less from Alice Kingston and I have to say I believe that she delivered.
What I enjoyed about this retelling is that it was a far cry from the whimsical, high-fantasy tale that we all know and love. In fact, there are no recognizable character within the novel aside from the wordplay of Addison Hatta’s name. I like that it was framed around the “other world” and “our world” as Alice balanced being a regular Atlanta teenager and heroic Dream Walker. Both her worlds were constantly at odds throughout the story and as things became more climatic in Wonderland her home life suffered in conjunction. Alice’s mother responded lividly each time she didn’t answer the phone or made curfew, like any mother would when their only child is non-responsive.
Magical weaponry and poetic verses fueled the magic of this Wonderland. I thought it was clever that witches and wizards are considered Poets who mix potions and create spells called ‘Verses’ using the magical essence of Wonderland. Although this was only mentioned in a paragraph describing the role of one of the characters, I wish that this was touched on a bit more in the lore of the story.
My favorite aspect of this story are the lore behind the Nightmares and Fiends that Alice keeps her world safe from. Nightmares are made up of the fears and intense emotions of the human realm while Fiends feed on grief and anger. In the beginning of the story, an unarmed teenage black girl is gunned down by the police creating Fiends, a more dangerous, almost evolved form of a Nightmare. Although that is not what the story is about, the emotional atmosphere where Alice lives is a breeding ground for Fiends. I thought this is very timely in light of what is going on in the U.S. today as a host of unarmed Black teens have been gunned down in the past couple of years. I like how the book touched on Alice and her mother’s emotional reactions to this occurring and how it helps fuel the anger she uses to slay the Nightmares and Fiends.
My only grip with the book was the almost forced love interest in Hatta and Alice’s best friend, Chess. There wasn’t much build-up to lead up to the romantic interactions between them aside from small hints of jealousy when Hatta conversed with other female characters and the small hints of a crush that Chess has on Alice. I believe the story could have been stronger without the little romantic tropes added in there. I would have been perfectly fine with it just being a story about an Atlanta teen slaying Nightmares and Fiends.
I would recommend this book to fans of urban fantasy and of course to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or any other demon slaying-type show that’s out there. I am elated that there are more Black authors taking on fantasy and retellings of classic tales and I look forward to reading more from L.L. McKinney as the ending teased that there will be a sequel!