The story on the pages of Splintered is every bit as colourful as the cover. Weirdness abounds in this fun tale, and considering its predecessor, this is exactly as it should be. To be clear, Splintered is not technically a retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, rather it’s a darker and more macabre revisiting of Lewis Carroll’s world. A.G. Howard manages to capture the wacky essence of Wonderland while putting her own twist on the setting and characters.
Alyssa Gardner, the protagonist of Splintered, has the ability to hear insect and plant voices. This is a red flag that, like her mother, she has inherited the mental illness that plagues the female descendants of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s main character. Naturally, Alyssa discovers that Wonderland is a real place and that this legacy of madness is inexplicably tied to it. In an adventure that incorporates strange childhood dreams, storybook relics, and many bizarre characters, Alyssa attempts to set things right in Wonderland and by doing so save her mother (and herself) from the grip of insanity. She finds herself embroiled in the dangerous political games of Wonderland where very little makes sense, and it seems that everyone she meets is spinning lies or using her for their own devices.
Though the story is largely based on fantasy, I found Alyssa’s struggles to be believable, especially her worries over succumbing to mental illness like her mother. She made mistakes but learned from them, and I felt like she genuinely cared for the people in her life, demonstrated by the way she risked her own safety to help those she loves. As much as Alyssa’s journey through Wonderland was about saving her mother, even more so it was about gaining confidence in herself and discovering her own identity. She also had to piece together her past in order to figure out her future. There’s a bit of mystery in this aspect of the story, which I found intriguing.
I also enjoyed Alyssa’s relationship with Jeb, the skateboarding artist next door who has been her best friend and crush for years. Jeb unwittingly gets sucked into Alyssa’s adventures in Wonderland, and the issues in their “friendship” gradually and sometimes uncomfortably unfold during their perilous quest.
The other major player in the story is Morpheus, but I really can’t give many details about him without spoiling. I’ll only say that he’s a very creative spin on one of Lewis Carroll’s original characters and that he’s also partly based on Brandon Lee’s character in The Crow. While Morpheus was very unusual and entertaining, I have to admit I was rooting for Jeb in terms of the love triangle. After reading some other reviews, I seem to be in the minority on this one. Alas, I cannot make my case without giving specifics from the book.
To sum up, Splintered is one of those stories where you really have no idea what’s coming next, because it’s so off the wall. In that regard, it's much like the original which I actually read not all that long ago with my son (and yes, we had our own Mad Hatter tea party). The picture to the right is my lovely copy. Splintered has romance, adventure, creepiness, crazy characters, and a brilliant setting. And as an added bonus, it may have the prettiest cover of any book released this year. Originally, Splintered wasn’t on my Debut Author Challenge list, but the cover and some great reviews made me “curiouser and curiouser” until I just had to check it out. I’m glad I did.