I’ve seen Christina Henry books numerous times before, books like The Mermaid and The Girl In Red, but never picked any up to read. I knew that she took existing stories like Peter Pan, or old fairy tales and put new and interesting twists on them, something that I’d seen her do with short stories in anthology collections like Hex Life or Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairytales, where I was impressed with her work. As such, when the chance to read her latest book came along I jumped at it, eager to see more.
Looking Glass isn’t quite what I was first expecting, however, as it’s not a novel in the traditional sense. Instead, the book has four connected short stories that act as both sequel and prequel to her books Alice and Red Queen, Henry’s version of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.
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The first section of the book, titles ‘Lovely Creature’ follows Elizabeth Hargreaves, a young girl getting ready to celebrate Giving Day, a special occasion where the children of the richer inhabitants of The City meet the City Fathers and receive a small gift from them. What turns this normal day unusual for her is when her appearance seems to spark a secret that her parents are keeping from her when her mother looks as her and says she looks like Alice.
Over the course of the story we learn that Elizabeth is in fact the younger sister of Alice, who was sent away to the city asylum following her magical adventures. Elizabeth seems to be something of a replacement for the Hargreaves’ banished Alice, and we learn that the asylum burnt down and all inside believed dead. But all this is kept hidden from Elizabeth. Unfortunately, she has a lot of her sister in her and is determined to find out who this mysterious Alice is, even if it leads her down a dark and magical path of her own.
Following this, in ‘Girl In Amber’ we learn that Alice is in fact alive, having escaped the fire in the Asylum along with her companion Hatcher, and that the two of them have fled the city to find a new life for themselves. Despite Alice’s magic and Hatcher’s ability to turn into a wolf it’s not easy for them out in the wilds, and the two of them soon become separated in a vast snowstorm. On her own once again Alice manages to find her way into a strange and almost mystical house after following a young boy. However, she discovers horrors inside that will require her to not just use her magical abilities, but to push them to new limits.
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‘When I First Came To Town’ is the part of the book that acts as a prequel to the entire series, jumping back through the years to explore Hatcher’s past. We get to see the gruff and grizzled man when he was still a teen, trying to earn his way out of poverty by fighting in back room boxing matches.
When the legendary fighter The Grinder is looking to compete against a new challenger Hatcher is given the opportunity to challenge him. A win against The Grinder will make him rich and famous, but a defeat could cripple him for life at the very least. Determined to win, Hatcher begins to train for the fight, a journey that will introduce him to a number of important figures, including Rabbit, and Cheshire.
The final section, ‘The Mercy Seat’, sees a more confident and powerful Alice and Hatcher as they continue their journey towards a new home, looking for a place to raise their coming child in peace. Along the way, however, the two of them must pass through the mysterious and deadly Village of the Pure, where anyone with magic meets a deadly fate.
The four stories presented in Looking Glass can all be read as stand alone pieces, and work well that way, but they do all connect, making one bigger story. Whilst I was at first unsure of how this would work I found that it actually read very well, and Henry was able to weave a story that was able to cover several narratives without feeling too bloated or boring. If anything it felt a lot snappier and easier to read thanks to this format.
Each section is also very different in tone, with one being quite trippy and psychedelic, which seems appropriate for an Alice story, whilst another felt more like a dark horror story. My favourite was definitely the section that delved into Hatcher though, as I loved seeing the progression of the character, and how other elements of the world were worked into it.
A very interesting and fun take on the Alice characters, one that proves to be a good followup to Henry’s other books, as well as an intriguing and engaging introduction to the world for readers like myself who have not read her other books.
Looking Glass is out now from Titan Books.