Ensnared, by A.G. Howard

Last Christmas, my daughters gave me the first two books in A.G. Howard’s dark and twisted reimagining of Alice in Wonderland. The concept was outstanding: Alyssa is a direct descendant of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s book, who journeyed to the real Wonderland. I read the first book, Splintered, back in March and gave it four stars because despite the vivid description and detail of the world, I had difficulty connecting with the narrator.

In May, I read the sequel, Unhinged, and gave it three-and-a-half stars. The level of detail made the book drag for me, and I grew annoyed by the antics of Morpheus and the waffling of Alyssa between the two men in her life. However, it had a cliffhanger that ensnared me enough to pick up the third part, but I wanted to wait before starting it.

Now it’s September, and I’ve completed the trilogy. I’ll try to be spoiler-free for part three, but I can’t guarantee it for the previous parts. You have been warned.

Something epically bad happened at the end of book two, and it left Alyssa in an asylum, separated from her mother, her human love interest Jeb, and her Wonderland love interest Morpheus. Oh yeah, and Wonderland is in grave danger. Only she has the power to fix things, but she learns she needs her father’s help.

I liked her father having an expanded role in the story, and the backstory about how he met Alyssa’s mother was touching. We meet more of his family, much to Alyssa’s surprise, and learn how they fit in the whole Wonderland legacy. It has been a few months since I read the previous book, and there’s so much details in these books that I may have forgotten some, but as interesting as this development was, it also seemed a little arbitrary.

They venture to the land of AnyElsewhere, where Morpheus and Jeb have been coexisting. Though the rules and magic of this place are weird and somewhat arbitrary, the dynamic between Jeb and Morpheus is really fun. In the two previous books, they’ve had an antagonistic relationship as they vied for Alyssa’s affections. Until she shows up to “rescue” them, they’ve been without her and have developed into a funny, bickering codependency. There’s a magical turnaround, and it was interesting to see Morpheus humbled to some extent while Jeb is on a creative power spree.

Despite being magic-less, Morpheus still has his wits still about him. Both he and Alyssa have their own plans to defeat Red, whose spirit now resides in Hart, the Queen of AnyElsewhere. Neither Morpheus nor Alyssa show all their cards, and the reader only knows Alyssa’s plan and the bits of Morpheus’s that he reveals or she infers. It’s all Wonderlandian magic mumbo-jumbo, but it makes for some great moments of tension later in the book when their respective actions sometimes jeopardize each other’s plans.

Part of both of their plans involve letting Red’s spirit temporarily reside in Alyssa’s body. This is one of the strongest parts of the book, as the tone of the narration really shifts while Alyssa wages an internal battle. That’s actually one of the underlying themes of the book series—being a half-breed, Alyssa has to choose between her human side and her Wonderland side. At this particular instant, it works really well.

But where it falls short for me is Alyssa’s continual emotional waffling between Jeb and Morpheus. (I’m team Jeb, by the way) It’s not the love triangle itself that I have a problem with because conceptually, I get it for this trilogy. Alyssa has a prescribed destiny in Wonderland that she can’t really escape, so it makes sense that she’d have a love interest there. The love triangle is resolved about as well as it could be given the circumstances, even though I think it’s a bit of a cop out. I simply grew tired of Alyssa waffling back and forth between the two boys, and that may be because I never fully latched onto her as a character.

There’s an additional book in the series, Untamed, which is a compilation of three novellas. Maybe someday I’ll read them. Author A.G. Howard writes richly detailed, imaginative prose. Sometimes, the descriptions slow the pace of the book, but at other times, the action ramps up. I’d rank this one somewhere between the previous two, but since I don’t want to deal with three-quarter ratings, I’ll let Ensnared snare FOUR STARS.

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Ensnared is available at Amazon.

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