Candlemark and Gleam’s new (re)Visions series, is a concept in which classic works of speculative fiction are reinterpreted by modern authors. I think this is a very interesting idea, especially as they also include the original work, so the reader can read both the original and the inspired works in sequence. The first work tackled in the series is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
In (re)Visions: Alice, in addition to Lewis Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland, we find novella’s by Kaye Chazan, Amanda Ching, Hilary Thomas and C.A. Young. They each provide wildly different takes on Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but each of them has their own charm and originality. From works set in what seems to be Carroll’s time, to a Noir thriller, to a story set in contemporary times, each of them succeeded in drawing me in, even if some did so more fully than others.
The first novella is Kaye Chazan’s What Aelister Found Here. Set in London, in 1888, it tells the tale of a young, adventurous boy, who runs away from his rural home to the big city of London. There he meets a mysterious Duke, who becomes his benefactor, seemingly driven by amusement at Aelister’s insistence he wants to learn to be like him and by kindness. Or is he? The story moves from being a straightforward story about a runaway to a more and more magic filled narrative; nothing is as it seems at first glance. Chazan manages to make Aelister both an unpleasant little boy and a sympathetic protagonist. I enjoyed this story, especially its descriptions of 1888 London. At the same time, there were some elements to the story that couldn’t be developed as much as I would have liked, due to the length of the novella format. Chief of these were the card magic that Aelister and the Duke share and the connection to Jack the Ripper. I truly would have liked to have seen more of both. But I enjoyed Ms Chazan’s writing and story a lot and the final reveal of the novel made me smile in an aha-moment.
The second novella is House of Cards by Amanda Ching. Again set in Victorian times, we visit the house of the Liddell family, get to know the person behind the Red Queen and the reason why Alice shouldn’t be in Wonderland. A mix of three POV’s, that of The Red Queen, Mary Ann, servant to the Liddells and that of the village’s gravedigger, the story consists of a narrative interspersed with flashbacks. At first it wasn’t clear to me that some parts were flashbacks, but as the story reached its conclusion, it became clear. While I enjoyed reading the Red Queen’s POV and seeing a more sympathetic portrayal of her, I found Mary Ann’s perspective less enjoyable, both because of what she is put through (rape and rejection) and the choices she makes afterwards. Despite this, the story was interesting and especially the incorporation of the Cheshire Cat in the real world was very clever. In the end the question remains whether magic is real or whether a delusion of insanity.
The third novella, Hilary Thomas’ Knave, is set in a Noir Wonderland and its protagonist is Jack Knave, head of security for the Red Queen. Delightfully noir and gritty, the story reminded me of a 1940’s detective or the atmosphere of the film The Black Dahlia. I really enjoyed this take on Wonderland. All the characters were turned into a part of the criminal society of Wonderland. The story was action-packed and wryly funny. Jack was a strong protagonist, bordering on a caricature of the gruff private eye, but never quite crossing the line. The Alice of this tale is the strongest one I’ve seen so far in fiction or film, she’s a ‘dame’ who knows her mind and she plays the game beautifully. While the shortest of the bunch, for me Knave was the one with the most impact. I really enjoyed Ms Thomas’ writing and would love to read more of her work.
The final novella in (re)Visions: Alice is C.A. Young’s The World in a Thimble. The story of gallery owner Toby, who finds himself stuck in an unfamiliar version of Wonderland. One where there is carnivorous furniture, a talking fountain and lots and lots of cats that are capable of the ‘Cheshire’ trick. This story is most unlike Carroll’s Wonderland, because it has the clearest ‘moral’, where Carroll wrote a story devoid of the ubiquitous Victorian moral to a children’s story and just wanted to entertain his little readers. During his adventure in Wonderland Toby learns to be a man, not a mouse and finally learns to stand up for himself. I liked this aspect of the story. I thought Mr Young’s vision of Wonderland delightful and very unique as it has the same whimsical feel, but shows us no locations we’ve seen before. Another well-written and engaging story to round out the anthology, The World in a Thimble is a satisfying final story to a very satisfying book.
As a whole, the (re)Visions: Alice anthology works very well. As with any collection of stories, there are highlights and less brighter lights, but as far as I’m concerned, no true duds. While Hilary Thomas’ Knave was my absolute favourite, all the other stories were good reads as well. Of course, favourites will vary for every reader, but the stories are definitely worth reading. In all, Candlemark and Gleam have hit upon an interesting concept for a series and I’m curious to see where they will take it and who they’ll tackle next.
This book was sent to me by the publisher.