Unhinged, 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. I read and reviewed the first book, Splintered, back in March and gave it four stars. The concept was outstanding: Alyssa is a direct descendent of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s book, but Alice journeyed to the real Wonderland and got her family cursed such that Alyssa’s mother spent most of her life in an asylum.

The first book was described so vividly that it was easy to picture the dark and twisted Wonderland author Howard created. I thoroughly enjoyed how elements from the source material were alluded to or reimagined. What stopped it from receiving higher than four stars was my own difficulty latching on to Alyssa as a narrator, particularly as she figured things out prior to the climactic showdown.

With Unhinged, I feel like I’ve stumbled through a looking glass and am in the reverse mirror world, as some of the strengths of the first book didn’t work as well for me here but some of the weaker elements stepped up their game.

First, let’s get to some story basics. Trying to be spoiler-free for this book, but some parts of the previous book may be revealed. You have been warned.

It’s months after the events of Splintered, and Alyssa’s mother is out of the asylum. Yay! Though he has no recollection of the events in Wonderland, Alyssa’s boyfriend Jeb is on the verge of artistic success. Yay! However, Alyssa’s having some artistic issues—her primary medium has switched from bugs to blood. Yuck! And her bloody mosaics show that something’s amiss in Wonderland. Yikes!

In fact, Wonderland is bleeding into the real world. Many of the major Wonderland players are let loose in Alyssa’s community, wreaking havoc at her school, home, and workplace. These make for some really intense scenes, and like in Splintered, they are described in so much detail that it’s impossible not to visualize them.

However, the sheer quantity of detail in the book also contributes to what I felt was a slower pace than the first book. I’m not sure the level was needed when describing some of the scenery in the real world. It’s needed for Wonderland since the place doesn’t exist, but I would have preferred less detail about what every character was wearing in order to get to the action or key points of each scene.

I also felt the pace was slowed when dealing with the love triangle—more like a love/jealousy polygon here. Alyssa and Jeb are planning to move off to London after she graduates, and that’s wonderful. Morpheus appears from Wonderland, complicating matters because of the flirtatious/stalkery kind of relationship he has with Alyssa. Meanwhile, Jeb is commissioned to do some artwork for someone named Ivy, which makes Alyssa somewhat jealous. Oh, and while Morpheus is incognito at Alyssa’s school, he attracts Taelor, Jeb’s ex-girlfriend from the start of the first book.

Because the story is narrated first-person present-tense from Alyssa’s point of view, the reader is always in her head. She waffles back and forth with her trust issues with Morpheus, her jealousy towards Jeb’s path to success, and her guilt for not being able to tell Jeb the full truth. It got repetitive at times, and I wanted to scream at her not to trust Morpheus and to trust Jeb. But overall, I believed her more than in the first.

I’m not sure what I think of Morpheus as a character. There was a novelty to his seductive arrogance in Splintered, but here it comes across as selfish. He professes that he cares for Alyssa, and he shows it at times, but at other times, he behaves in the exact opposite manner of her wishes. I won’t deny that he’s an intriguing character, and his otherworldliness makes sense, but his shtick occasionally grated on my nerves.

However, the relationship I was most happy to see explored was the one between Alyssa and her mother. Because she had her own past with Wonderland, it was great to see whether she’d be protective, supportive, restrictive, secretive, and so on towards her daughter’s role in everything. It’s complicated, and her backstory is somewhat convoluted (won’t spoil it here), but it was great to watch their rollercoaster ride throughout the story.

From having read/seen many book/movie trilogies, I see the pattern of the first part having a self-contained conflict but open for a sequel, but then part two ending on a cliffhanger to guarantee interest in part three. The ending of Unhinged is like that, so I kinda have to read Ensnared for closure. Actually, Alyssa’s coda at the end of the final chapter blew my mind in such a great way that I’m hoping to read it sooner rather than later.

But how do I rank this book? I think it got caught in a web of too much detail and repetition in parts, but it is still an intriguing story—though a little weaker than the first part. It came unhinged in a few places for me, so Unhinged gets THREE AND A HALF STARS.

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Unhinged in available at Amazon.

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