Firstly, I feel the need to point out that, regarding reading, Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles came to my attention at a somewhat tough time. Suffering a massive, and wildly disappointing reading slump that lasted weeks, I was jaded. Of the last five books that I have read, three were okay at best and two I just couldn’t complete. So, the stakes were high for me personally. It was also only a few weeks back that I had been searching for some kind of dark, original take on fairy-tale stories; a genre that I find highly interesting. However, my search was less than satisfying, and nothing quite hit the mark.
So, along came Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles, the debut novel from J. M. Sullivan. On first reading of the blurb, I must admit that it caught my attention, and it had been recommended to me on several occasions. However, I was still slightly dubious, partly because of my disappointed reading mood, and because of the zombie aspect of the book. It’s not that I don’t like the zombie genre (although I’m not its greatest fan), but over the recent years this whole zombie explosion has gone insane and I had lost nearly all my enthusiasm regarding it. There’s only so many ways you can tell a zombie story before you’re just reading or watching the same old thing, right? Still, Lewis Carrol’s classic creation mixed with some post-apocalyptic world? I was curious. Although, since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith was such a disaster, there was certainly the potential for this to be awfully disappointing.
That being said…
I could not have been more wrong. What Sullivan has created, is an absolute masterclass in genre blending, that hits every mark possible, without either the slightest hint of a misstep. I can’t imagine that there are many people that do not know the story of Alice in Wonderland (shame on you if you don’t), and this is blatantly obvious in Sullivan’s fantastic writing, that she, too, is certainly no stranger to it. Let me say though, Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles is not just another classic tale rehashed, with some zombie mayhem thrown in for good measure and a cheap sale. No, no, no. This book has an utterly unique and captivating life of its own, created by a wonderfully visionary storyteller.
In Alice, we follow the titular character as she makes her way through a post-apocalyptic zombie (here called ‘Momeraths’, which is the most inventive name for the un-dead that I have come across yet) world, in search for a cure for her sister Dinah, who has contracted the Momerath Virus. Along the way, she meets a wide range of marvellous characters. I don’t want to say too much about any of these, as I really want you to discover them for yourselves, but I will say that each one of them is written and developed to absolute perfection.
So, how do you blend the classic tale of Alice with the insanity of flesh-eating zombies, and make it work? Well, before I had the pleasure of reading this book I would have not thought it possible. Certainly not to any level where it would be an inspiring or memorable novel. And, that is where Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles shines brightly. The basics of its success comes down to intelligent writing by the author. And there is no doubting its intelligence and creativity. It truly is a well thought out and brilliantly executed piece of work, the likes of which have not kept me so engrossed for a very long time. J. M. Sullivan has written a beautifully flowing story that doesn’t miss a beat. Although it is faithful to the blueprints of the original story, it is not pinned down to it, and most definitely not a cheap rehash. There are many great nods to the characters and story that have inspired it in the form of characters and many other aspects (again, that you must discover and enjoy for yourself), but overall, and undeniably, it is its own monster (and a deliciously spectacular one at that) that has been written with great care, thought and imagination that is individual to the author herself.
From the opening paragraph, to the very last page, Alice is consistently engaging and there is no let-up or decline in the quality of the storytelling. It’s fair to say that there is obviously an aspect of horror. I don’t particularly like using that word as it conjures up images that can just go crazy in your mind, but it’s difficult not to use it when you’re talking about zombies. It’s not like they go around handing out flowers to passers-by. They’re zombies. They eat people. However, this aspect is fairly light (although this depends on your own perception of horror), whilst still being as graphic as it needs to be within the context of the story. What really amazed me is that despite the horrifying world in which it is set, Sullivan still had the genius of writing to keep it feeling magical all the way through. The tone of its source material never got lost amongst the darkness. Again, that comes down to the ridiculously clever writing on behalf of J. M. Sullivan.
Overall, despite its obvious inspired blueprints, Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles is a story like no other and something of which is incomparable to anything else. The journey you take along with Alice and all the brilliantly crafted characters, is one that will have you entirely gripped, as though you are living it too. The world created is palpable and every character created is absolutely fantastic. I keep mentioning the source material, and I kind of irk myself by doing that, because Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles is a breathtakingly unique novel in its own right, and I think J. M. Sullivan deserves that recognition for creating something that I guarantee you, you will not have read before. Beyond my expectations and to my surprise, Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles takes its rightful place as one of my all-time favourite novels. I cannot wait to see what comes next. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.