Alice in Wonderland was one of my all-time favourite reads as a child and I’m still a huge fan. I loved Tim Burton’s quirky take on the Lewis Carroll books in his two films, and more recently devoured Christina Henry’s alternative fantasy Alice and Red Queen novels. So, when the opportunity to review L L McKinney’s YA novel, A Blade So Black, dropped into my inbox, I don’t think I’ve never hit reply so fast.
A Blade So Black
Swords will shatter. Hearts will break. Heads will roll. 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 slipping grades. 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.
About the author
Leatrice “Elle” McKinney, writing as L.L. McKinney, is a poet and active member of the kidlit community. She’s an advocate for equality and inclusion in publishing, and the creator of the hashtag #WhatWoCWritersHear. She’s spent time in the slush by serving as a reader for agents and participating as a judge in various online writing contests. A Blade So Black is her debut novel, a contemporary reworking of the world of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland.
A Blade So Black takes Lewis Carroll’s ideas and puts a fresh, urban spin on things. Here, Alice is a young black woman who’s more akin to Buffy the Vampire Slayer than the sweet blonde of Carroll’s novels. Her beloved father has just died and her mum worries about Alice’s safety, especially as another young black girl has recently been killed by the police. When Alice confronts her first Nightmare, she also meets Addison Hatta, who will become her trainer, guide and more. Together, they patrol Atlanta to hunt and kill any Nightmare demons who enter our world.
I particularly loved Alice’s relationships with her friends, Chess and Court, whom she tries to protect from the growing threats and pressures they are all facing. And, without wanting to give away any spoilers, it was refreshing to see a romantic female pairing too, with a lovely chivalric twist.
As Alice’s two worlds collide, she has to balance some familiar fantasy characters (the Duchess, two rather hot Tweedles, a White Princess, and The Jabberwocky’s Vorpal Blade) with her family and best friends. She has a quest to fulfil and there’s a Black Knight who stands in her way in, as well as some staggeringly visceral fight scenes. It sounds like a cliche but parts of this book were so breakneck, exciting, and gripping that I literally did not want to put it down.
Would I recommend it?
I think you can probably guess the answer. I absolutely LOVED this book. The familiar story gets a fabulous glow up and even though it’s a fantasy novel, the themes, characters, and realities are still so relatable. I’ve said it before, there are a very few YA books with young black lead characters. The publication of A Blade So Black in the same year as Black Panther came to the big screen perhaps marks a shift in redressing the balance. I’m going to leave the last words to L L McKinley:
“And to those black kids searching countless shelves, between endless pages,
hoping to catch a glimpse of themselves in galaxies far away,
fantasies long ago, and stories here and now: this one’s for you.
Shine on, and drive back the dark.”
Huge thanks to Titan Books for organising a copy of A Blade So Black for me to review. I was so excited for this dark take on Alice in Wonderland, it definitely lived up to all my expectations. And after that cliffhanger ending, I can’t wait for L L McKinley to write the sequel!
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