A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney
The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she's trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.
Life in real-world Atlanta isn't always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice's handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she'll need to use everything she's learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.
I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t in love with A Blade So Black. The more I learned about the book, the less excited I was to be going into it. There were areas near the beginning where I almost DNF’d it – but I am glad I didn’t. As far as Alice in Wonderland retellings go, it wasn’t the worst! There’s a lot of different aspects here I’d like to talk about, so I’m going to try and hit them one by one.
First of all, as if my photo doesn’t scream it, I’m white. My family came from Canada three generations before I was born, and before that we were in England, Ireland, and France. White, white, white. This book was not written for me. And that’s okay. Better than okay, actually, that’s good. There should be more books not written for me, or people that look like me. Do I enjoy it when I see myself in a book? Of course. But I have lots of options, and other people don’t. There were definitely some moments in the dialogue, where I had to step back and re-read bits because I had gotten lost in the dialect that wasn’t culturally mine.
Again. Cannot emphasize enough. This is all OKAY. It’s good. L.L. McKinney has worked so hard to create a book where black girls will be able to find themselves. I am have no right to judge whether or not she has been successful in this, but I genuinely hope she has.
In as far as this is an Alice In Wonderland retelling, I see more similarities than in a lot of other retellings. I actually liked the overall setting of Wonderland, with its darkness and the Glow, Nightmares coming from the muck and the next generation of people moving on in. Wonderland tends to be timeless in retellings, with all the characters that the child Alice ran into. This was a creative, different take on the story, and I appreciate that.
Otherwise, I found the plot generally … uninteresting, I guess? It’s not that there wasn’t a plot, but I wasn’t invested in it. I also wasn’t convinced by some of the authority Alice had over others? She easily sways people to see her point of view without building a rapport. The side characters were pretty flat, which was frustrating because the plot relied on them. Hatta and Chess – as Alice’s love interests – were her motivations, but I felt absolutely no emotion involving them. I think if the story had revolved more around her inner strength and her father, it would have been more successful. The romantic relationships were hollow and boring to me.
McKinney also lost me in the last third of the book, while the action was ramping up, because I just didn’t care what happened to anyone by that point. There were interesting characters who hadn’t been expanded, and a whole history that was told instead of shown. Her action sequences were over too quickly, and the ending was very open, so I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a book two on the horizon.
All in all – I appreciated the idea, but I would have liked to see things unfold more gradually and with greater care. McKinney was so focused on making a strong, fantastic main character that a lot of other things felt dull and unfinished beside her. I do think that this book has great potential with audiences, and could be very successful with those who fall in love with her writing style. Personally, it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m glad I read it through to the end.
A Blade So Black will be donated.
I honestly cannot see myself revisiting this book. My reading of it was more laborious than I like a book to be. It’ll remain on my list of recommendations for the right people, and seriously, if you’re looking for an Alice retelling, it’s a decent interpretation. I think that in the right hands, it’ll be a great read, so I would encourage others to pick it up. For myself, if it’s not going to be revisited, it gets to go to a new home.