Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Red Queen by Christina Henry is the second book in a series that retells Alice’s adventures in Wonderland (the first is called Alice.) It follows on from the exact point where we left Alice and Hatcher in the first book- following the two through a tunnel leading away from the evil Old City. However, the green pastures they have been promised are nowhere to be found, thus the story continues. Underlying all this is their quest to find Hatcher’s daughter Jenny.
I highly enjoyed Red Queen, in fact, more so than I did Alice. Henry’s attempt at bringing a darker side to Alice in Wonderland felt cleverer and more thought out than in the first text. In Alice, the bringing in of elements from the original felt forced- almost as if Henry felt there had to be a nod to each distinguishing feature. For example, in one scene a character who eventually ends up rescuing some trapped prisoners by taking them down a tunnel is revealed to be a large rabbit, leading to the ‘rabbit down a hole’ reference. The scene would have worked just as well, if not better, without this, as the result seemed laboured. However, with Red Queen scenes like this were on the whole avoided. Henry maintained intelligently bringing old characters to life in new ways (something I loved in Alice) and managed to rid herself of the tick box exercise she seemed to have before. The reader is left to their own devices here, we must work out ourselves who the characters are, why the landscapes appear the way they do and why Alice is acting in certain ways. This feels like an attempt to trust the readers more, which makes it, in my opinion, a much better book.
To say this then may make my criticism appear contradictory but bear with me! One of my key issues with Red Queen is how long we have to wait until we ‘meet’ the Red Queen. I’m putting meet in apostrophes because we don’t ever really meet her, at least not in the way we would expect. Of course, this feeds into the way we get to know Carroll’s characters in a new sense and a new light, but I couldn’t help but feel misled- if the book is called Red Queen, so I sort of expected it to be about the Red Queen. In such a short book it also felt like we waited too long for this reveal to occur- almost 200 pages. Yet again, I can’t deny that the way the Red Queen is brought in is intriguing, but the book just isn’t what I expected as a result. This problem is a small one but one that clouded my entire experience of reading as I was constantly waiting for something or someone that would never appear.
Another slight issue I had with Red Queen was how short it was (a shocker for someone who usually avoids long reads!) I personally think that a quick fix to the whole Red Queen issue would have been to expand the book, thus giving more time to the final reveal and leaving us less short-changed. There is nothing else within the text I would cut as I feel a lot more thought was given to storytelling and character development in this novel than the first which gave way to a better read, but this was all lost by the ending being so abrupt and carrying a reveal that wasn’t as great as I imagine it was intended to be. Red Queen was teeming with great characters- Brynja, the black king, the white queen, the goblin, hatcher, pen the giant- all of which I happily could have heard from for longer. Yet, by making this book shorter but keeping in these character developments that had no end goal felt disappointing.
A quick final note must go to the lack of chapters- there were none!! Instead, Henry opted for two very unequal sections, making this a laborious read at times. I felt like there was no let-up so I had to make my own, which often led to me pausing in the middle of slightly quieter scenes as I didn’t know when I would next get a break!
Overall, I would give this 3.5 out of 5! I liked it but it didn’t live up to what I thought it would be.