Book Review – A Blade So Black by L L McKinney – Titan Books


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.

A Blade So Black is available as an eBook and paperback from Amazon UK and paperback from Waterstones.

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.


First impressions

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!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission at no cost to you if you make any book purchases using these links.  And you can check out my other book reviews here too.


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This book sounds very interesting! You have given such a detailed review of the book, I love how you have written about the author of the book too. You have taken lovely photographs! I love how you take your photographs. Thank you for sharing your review. ?xxx

Jenny in Neverland

I love a good Disney re-write so this is right up my street! I’ve read two Alice re-writes, one called Death of the Mad Hatter by Sarah J. Pepper and the other one called Insanity by Cameron Jace which were both amazing so I’d definitely recommend those! xxx

Alice V

I remember when the book Wicked came out and I was excited to read a different take of Wizard of Oz but it was so disappointing and just made me hate the wicked witch rather than like her in any way. It sounds like this book not only puts a fresh new face to the “Alice” name but turns Wonderland into a true wonderland that can be horrible, mysterious, and exciting. I like books like this and will probably pick it up as I do like YA novels.


This book sounds great. I love the fantasy world of Wonderland, and have enjoyed the original books, the Disney animated movie and the Tim Burton versions. I’ll have to check this out – I love a strong female character and your comparison of this Alice to Buffy the Vampire Slayer sounds like my kind of leading lady. Thanks for sharing Lisa.


I’m loving your description of the book Lisa – “a fresh urban spin and a fabulous glow up” you have such a beautiful way with words. I’ve not heard of this book yet but think it’s a fantastic idea! A modern version of a classic tale with cool sassy characters who are both familiar and relatable, I need to get myself a copy! This sounds like an exciting adventure story and a great way to escape into another world for a while. Brilliant review and gorgeous photos, thank you for sharing <3 xx

Bexa |


I love the sound of this book and you had me completely when you said she’s much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer! I’m not a huge reader, but this sounds like something that I might like. Thanks for sharing ♥

Bethany Jane

Oooh I love the concept of this! Like you, I love Alice in Wonderland, but this sounds like such an exciting and fresh new take on it. It’s really awesome that the lead is a black girl, we definitely need books to embrace diversity a bit more so that kids have better representation. I haven’t read a rewrite before but this sounds like the perfect one to start with! Thanks for sharing such a brilliant review 🙂
Beth x


This is such a great review, the book sounds fascinating! I always loved Alice in Wonderland and this sounds incredible. I’m adding it to my TBR pile! Your photos are beautiful!
Hels xx


This sounds so interesting and it’s a diverse read as well. I am here for A Blade So Black. Added to my TBR

Sunkissed Scribbles

Great review, Lisa! I’ve not heard of this book before but it sounds like an interesting retelling of Alice In Wonderland. I think these books that are a modern take on classics can be hit or miss. I’m glad you enjoyed it and, based on your review, I’ll keep a look out for this one ?


This sounds like a great read! Especially if you’re already an Alice fan. Going to have to check it out – great review!


This sounds amazing! I’m not a huge fan of YA typically but I love the twist on this. I was a big fan of traditional Alice in Wonderland when I was younger, and I loved Buffy too so this could be the perfect hybrid for me. I was gripped reading your review. Great post! x


Cordelia Moor

Oh my god this sounds so incredible. I’ve loved the story of Alice for so long, and the twist that this book puts on the beloved tale sounds AMAZING. I’d never heard of it, but I want to run out and grab a copy immediately. Or, y’know, download it on Kindle so I don’t actually have to walk anywhere. Wonderful review Lisa!!

Cordelia ||


looking for a new book to read, so this was a great post.
karen /

Ms Via

Great review Lisa. A modern take on Alice in wonderland sounds mysterious and intriguing. Will add this to my reading list. 🙂

Via |