Monday, January 27, 2014
Review: Unhinged by A.G. Howard
Review: Unhinged by A.G. Howard
Release date: January 7th, 2014
Publisher: Amulet (Abrams)
Series: Yes, #2 in the Splintered series
Source: Print ARC borrowed from Lili
Rating: While the language remains lush and the worldbuilding inventive, I had issues with both the plot and the characters this time around.
Alyssa Gardner has been down the rabbit hole and faced the bandersnatch. She saved the life of Jeb, the guy she loves, and escaped the machinations of the disturbingly seductive Morpheus and the vindictive Queen Red. Now all she has to do is graduate high school and make it through prom so she can attend the prestigious art school in London she's always dreamed of.
That would be easier without her mother, freshly released from an asylum, acting overly protective and suspicious. And it would be much simpler if the mysterious Morpheus didn’t show up for school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest in the dark, challenging Wonderland—where she (partly) belongs.
As prom and graduation creep closer, Alyssa juggles Morpheus’s unsettling presence in her real world with trying to tell Jeb the truth about a past he’s forgotten. Glimpses of Wonderland start to bleed through her art and into her world in very disturbing ways, and Morpheus warns that Queen Red won’t be far behind.
If Alyssa stays in the human realm, she could endanger Jeb, her parents, and everyone she loves. But if she steps through the rabbit hole again, she'll face a deadly battle that could cost more than just her head.
My thoughts are a bit all over the place with this one. On the one hand, I read it nearly straight through, and I found myself amazed by a lot of the prose and a lot of Howard's twists on Wonderland lore. On the other hand, I wanted to throttle the vast majority of the major characters, and that's never good, is it?
One of the first aspects that threw me off was the relationship between Jeb and Alyssa. They've been together for a year, but for most of that time they've been separated--he in London, being an artist, she at home, going to school. I didn't really feel them anymore, which is a shame, because Alyssa's love for Jeb is a lot of the driving force of her character. It's pretty much all of Jeb's personality, besides artistic ambition.
What I did love very much was the way Howard brought the sinister aspects of Wonderland to life, and the way she made them invade the real world in a way that feels totally wrong but deliciously right. Alyssa's Netherling, Queen-of-Wonderland side is beginning to take over her human side. Shenanigans are going on back in Wonderland, and it's starting to affect the human world. Which is why Morpheus, aka the only character I gave a toss about this time around (surprisingly, as he's still quite horrible at times). Oh, no. I also liked Alyssa's father, for the most part, and Alyssa's mother by the end. Alyssa's mom is free from the asylum and living at home, and there will be some reveals about her that will piss you off mightily, but in the end she became a fuller character.
My issues were with Jeb and Alyssa. It's hard for me to say exactly why I couldn't warm to them any longer. Maybe because they kept saying they loved each other but didn't seem to demonstrate it very effectively in the day to day? Maybe because that big, adorable Morpheus reveal made me go "Awwwwww"? But even before that, Alyssa began rubbing me the wrong way. Don't get me wrong--I like characters with moral ambiguity, who aren't perfect, who make mistakes and can be accidentally cruel. But I don't think jealous, occasionally petty Alyssa knew that she was kind of awful at times, and nor, I think, did the author. It became a bit unpleasant being in her head, but I still can't put my finger on precisely why. She grated on me, she cried, and she made decisions I couldn't track.
Another drawback is the fact that we don't actually get to go back to Wonderland, cutting back on one of Howard's strengths. The Wonderland madness, inventiveness, and visualness is why I came, and while the parts that do show up are wonderfully realized, I still missed it. There was too much contemporary blah blah for me. Then again, the denizens of Wonderland suddenly beng in the human world led to great hilarity. I LOVE the White Rabid, and seeing Morpheus try to "acclimate" was also fun. Jenara, Jeb's sister and Alyssa's supposed best friend, is an entirely superfluous character.
As always, Howard is a master at revealing twists and new information that completely flip everything you thought was true on its head. Think you understand Morpheus? Alyssa's mother? Alyssa's father? Guess again. Nothing is at it seems. We're all mad here.
As for the final climax... well, my problem is that it was hard to see. I couldn't picture it, and it didn't make much sense as a battle. I didn't enjoy the after-effects, though I adore the set-up for the next book. I finished this book with a shrug. Did I enjoy parts of it? Most definitely. Will I read the third? Yes, for Morpheus and my curiosity. Am I salivating for it? No, no really.