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YA Fantasy Book Review: The Wonderland Trials

3 stars

1st of the Curious Realities Duology

Type of Fantasy: Fairy-Tale Retelling


All Alice Liddell wants is to escape her Normal life in Oxford and find the parents who abandoned her ten years ago. But she gets more than she bargained for when her older sister Charlotte is arrested for having the infamous Wonder Gene—the key to unlocking the curious Wonderland Reality.

Soon, Alice receives a rather cryptic invitation to play for Team Heart in this year’s annual—and often deadly—Wonderland Trials. Now she has less than twenty-four hours to find her way into Wonderland where nothing is impossible . . . or what it seems.

The stakes are raised when she discovers players go missing during the Trials each year. Will she and her team solve the clues and find the missing players? Or will betrayal and distrust win, leaving Alice alone in a world of her own? Follow the White Rabbit into this topsy-turvy fantasy where players become prey, a sip of the wrong tea might as well be poison, and a queen’s ways do not always lead one where they ought to go.

My Thoughts

Even though I don’t much like the original Alice in Wonderland book by Lewis Carroll (it’s a bit too nonsensical for me), I have enjoyed reading retellings over the years, primarily Heartless by Marissa Meyer and Splintered by Alice Howard. When I heard about The Wonderland Trials, I bought a copy because I was intrigued and excited about the prospect of games based in Wonderland. And that cover is lovely.

I did like the trials themselves. They were shocking, puzzling, and thrilling–all what one would expect of challenges based in Wonderland. Every game that Ella invented for the book were well crafted; the way she was able to pull both from real games and make up her own impressed me.

In fact, all the worldbuilding was great. I loved the tech of Wonderland and how it’s built on top of Normal London and the whole concept of Normals vs. Wonders and the challenges both face. All the uses of tea was lovely and Chess Shire was cute :).

It took Alice much longer to enter Wonderland and begin the trials than I expected–about half the book! This was disappointing, but what was even more disappointing was that (minor spoiler alert) we don’t even see Alice and her team go through the fourth trial. It felt like this was promised to the reader near the start of the story, and then the author didn’t fulfill her promise.

I’m not so upset that the book ended on a cliffhanger as that the book seemed to end at or even before the climax of the story. This jarred me and left the story feeling very abrupt. There was no resolution, and it probably could have been fixed if the first half of the book was condensed.

Also near the end of the book, I felt like I had whiplash. Alice was looking for one of her friends in a rather creepy building, and then all of a sudden a kiss is happening. There wasn’t much build-up; one moment Alice was commenting on the building, and the next they were kissing.

This happened again a few pages later as well. Alice was about to start another trial when she leaves to apologize to another friend, completely throwing me off. I was gearing up for a trial; where do you think you’re going, Alice?! Showing more of Alice’s thoughts and emotions on the page would have quelled this whiplash feeling and help make Alice’s actions not feel so random.

Near the end of the book, Alice behaves toward someone in a rather odd, unpredictable way for no good reason that’s not explained well. It felt like her behavior was just to build tension between them; it seemed a bit false.

I did enjoy the mystery and overall story; I just wish the pacing had been more equal and some of the MC’s thoughts/emotions fleshed out more. I’ll probably try to find the sequel, The Looking-Glass Illusion, at my library once it comes out September 19 to find out what happens in this fourth trial. (Will it really take up the whole book? Only one way to find out…).

What are some Alice in Wonderland retellings that you’ve read?

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