A Blade So Black, by L. L. McKinney
Publish Date: September 25, 2018
Published by: Imprint
Genre: YA Fantasy/Retelling
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.5 out of 5 stars)
**I received this as an egalley from the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.**
The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she’s trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.
Life in real-world Atlanta isn’t always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she’ll need to use everything she’s learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.
When I first started this book I really enjoyed it. It pulled me in quickly and held my interest throughout the story. The writing is excellent, the storytelling very well done, and the characters were very lifelike and distinct. It had a bit of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe which I digged a lot, and the action and intrigue kept me captivated throughout. My only issue, though, was that by the end it started to feel like things were getting dragged out, and with so many new issues occurring and adding up on top of each other, it felt like the plot would never end.
I really liked the writing style McKinney has in this book. The voice was distinct and the descriptions were bright and engaging. Action scenes are often difficult to write, but McKinney does a great job, and I think the strongest part of this comes from how much she focuses on Alice’s perspective and emotions during the more highly intense scenes (both physical and emotional ones). That, along with the fast pace of the plotline, made for a very engaging read.
The world building is excellent, and I had no trouble at all following along, give or take a few times (but considering it based on Lewis Carrol’s nonsense it still made a sort of sense?). The references to the original stories of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are definitely there, but it also feels very unique and original as well. A nice little homage, if you will, as opposed to an absolute retelling. The plot was engaging from the start and kept me captivated throughout most of the story, however, as I said, it wasn’t until towards the end when I felt like we weren’t getting any closer to the climax of the story, what with more and more issues and twists popping up, that it started to feel like I was losing interest. It felt like there was so much still left to be resolved and yet not enough pages left in the book to fulfill those conclusions. On the one hand, this definitely leads to the next book, but at the same time it feels me leaving a little frustrated and unsatisfied because there is still so much left to be resolved.
Alice is an excellent protagonist. Not only is she believable real – she is determined and strong-willed but has her own fears to overcome often and isn’t always at the top of her game – her voice is strong and truly makes this experience hers. She is a black American and it shows strongly throughout the story, both in how she describes herself and how the struggles she and other POC experience affect her both in Wonderland and real life (particularly concerning her relationship with her mother who, despite coming off strict, is so because of her fear for and love of her daughter). Alice is shaped by her relationships to others, and how much she cares for those she loves really helps define her choices and actions throughout the story.
I think the only relationship Alice had that I had some trouble with was her one with Addison Hatta, her mentor. I completely believed her feelings for him, and loved reading about how much she cared for him. But, Hatta? I just didn’t feel any reciprocation from him. Usually there are hints throughout the story, things the protagonist might brush off or try to deny because they’re afraid of reading too much into things, but Hatta did nothing of the sort. As far as I could tell, he cared for Alice, but nothing more than as a close friend. I wanted to feel the chemistry, but I just didn’t. It felt so one-sided that by the time anything did happen between the two of them, I just didn’t feel like I actually believed it. At least from Hatta’s side, anyway.
Overall, this was a captivating read that pulled me in quickly and kept me interested for most of the story. The characters and the emotions were a strong and brilliant point of the story, the world-building was great, but sadly I just felt myself losing interest somewhere towards the end. I’d still probably recommend this, because not only is the #ownvoice representation great, but it’s still a great retelling with lots of action and intense emotional scenes.