I never really got into the Alice in Wonderland thing as a kid. Apparently, when I saw the Disney movie, I started crying because it scared me so much (honestly, I can't say this surprises me - I used to hate Ferris Bueller's Day Off because the film made me anxious because I was afraid he was going to get caught - plus, he was skipping school! ... now of course, I enjoy it for the comedy it is). Of course, I know the basics - rabbit hole, Cheshire cat, caterpillar, Mad Hatter etc. though I do get confused once we hit the royalty. Is there a queen of hearts and a red queen? Or is that the same person? I also never read the Lewis Carroll poems/book, and it is only more recently that I've had a bit of an interest in Alice related things, starting with the novel Alice I Have Been, a fictionalized account of the real Alice's life and her family's relationship with Charles Dodgson. I've also seen the Tim Burton film which I thought was pretty but not really that engaging.
Anyway, as a result of my half-familiarity with the source material, I could pick up on the obvious references to Carroll's Wonderland but I'm sure there were things that simply flew over my head. I really enjoyed the worldbuilding in this one but I am not actually sure how much of that is due to Howard's original ideas and how much of that is from the preexisting world she is writing in. Certainly, I liked the premise, and the first half of the novel had me hooked.
Alyssa Gardner, the narrator, is descended from Alice Liddell, of Alice in Wonderland fame, and as one can imagine this has led to a certain amount of teasing in school. However, Alyssa has also inherited the family madness that led to her grandmother's death, and her mother's placement in an asylum. Like the other women in her family, Alyssa can hear bugs and flowers speaking to her. It actually serves as the inspiration for her art, as she makes mosaics of dead bugs to keep it under control. However, as the novel continues, Alyssa starts witnessing things that make her realize that she and her mother aren't mad - they really can hear the bugs speaking to them, and Alice really went down a rabbit hole a hundred years ago, leaving the women of her family cursed for the things she did in Wonderland. In order to save herself and her mother, Alyssa realizes she must go to Wonderland and fix what Alice did.
So far so good, right? Alyssa is shown as a relatively capable and sarcastic protagonist in the beginning who is willing to go on an adventure. Unfortunately, she has a crush on her neighbor and best friend Jeb, and while he is a bit overprotective and irritating in reality (he considers himself one of Alyssa's best friends but is dating her biggest bully and wants Alyssa to play nice), Alyssa ends up bringing him along to Wonderland with her, which may have been the worst plot decision ever for this novel. When Alyssa is first exploring Wonderland and discovering the same potions that Alice did in the rabbit hole, the reader can barely relish the experience because Jeb keeps interrupting and saying they need to go back home. I guess that's one of my faults. I tend to get irritated with characters sometimes when they don't just go with the flow and accept the adventure even though it is an entirely reasonable reaction because well, I'm reading a fantasy novel and I know the adventure is going to happen so let's just get to it and stop protesting so much - plus at this point, the novel as already dealt with Alyssa's earlier disbelief. I don't need two scenes worth of Doubting Thomases.
Once they are in Wonderland and thoroughly committed to the quest, Jeb becomes a crutch for Alyssa as she basically becomes a passive damsel in distress in need of rescuing. Instead of a resourceful heroine, she just tags along on her own adventure. Jeb continues to be obnoxious and overprotective, except more so. It certainly doesn't help that Howard develops a love triangle between Jeb, Alyssa and Morpheus (a moth/the caterpillar from the original) as Morpheus volunteers himself as Alyssa's guide to Wonderland. Morpheus was an interesting character, but his presence made Jeb a controlling chauvinist and distracted from the overall story. Now, I really get what Howard was trying to do - Morpheus is supposed to appeal to Alyssa's dark, wild side while Jeb is the protective, sweet boy next door that she's had a crush on forever, but instead Jeb just comes off as a douche. I honestly think the pull between light and dark would have worked for me more if Jeb had not been in Wonderland so I wouldn't have had an opportunity to realize what a tool he was.
While the novel started out as a page turner for me, by the end, it had really slowed and I actually felt like it dragged. I think the main reason for this is the novel got bogged down and drowned in the love triangle. Instead of describing Alyssa's adventure, I just felt like it kept describing her feelings for different boys and how they made her feel when they kissed her. I was a bit curious about the sequel, but a few people mentioned loving Splintered and being annoyed by the lack of plot in the sequel as it's all about the love triangle. Basically, it sounds like my issues with Splintered amped up to the nth degree which is unfortunate because I really liked the initial set up of this novel.