Sixteen-year-old Alyssa Victoria Gardner is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Alice Liddell, the inspiration behind Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. She's also doomed to follow in her mother's, grandmother's, and great-grandmother's footsteps... into madness. The very-same day she 'became a woman' (i.e. got her period for the first time), the expected delusions began, and she's been trying to drown the voices out ever since.
But an especially eventful visit with her mother Alison—who's been institutionalized ever since the incident that left Alyssa physically scarred for life—convinces Alyssa that the delusions aren't delusions: they're real. And that the only way she can save her mother—and herself—is to find the way to Wonderland and right whatever wrongs Alice committed all those years ago.
So she steals money from her long-time frenemy—who just so happens to be dating Alyssa's crush—and heads out to find the rabbit hole. Once she falls through, though, she discovers that the real Wonderland isn't at all like Carroll's version: it's darker and stranger and even more dangerous than he could have ever imagined...
The Wonderland in Splintered is lush and imaginative and twisted and creepy and vibrant, and the inhabitants fit right into that world, in terms of looks and behavior. Without any conscious attempt on her part, Alyssa's fashion sensibilities—imagine Claudia Kishi obsessed with Sucker Punch—make her fit right in, and I can't imagine that Howard's detailed vision won't end up on a screen of some size at some point soon. Carroll fans will enjoy identifying the parallels and differences with the original, but familiarity with Alice isn't necessarily... er... necessary, as, at its heart, Splintered is a basic quest story that has Alyssa tasked with performing specific feats in order to break the curse on her bloodline.
Like Carroll's Alice, much of the time that Alyssa is in Wonderland, things are out of her control. Unlike Carroll's Alice, though—and this is where my major difficulty with the book lies—Alyssa's loss of control can almost always be chalked up to one of the two guys in her life: Morpheus, a Wonderland denizen who has a penchant for fancy hats and a hookah, and Jeb, the aforementioned crush. She is bossed around, held against her will, lied to, and argued about as if she A) wasn't standing right there and B) someone with, you know, AN OPINION ABOUT HER OWN WELFARE.
Jeb both infantilizes and idealizes her, Morpheus treats her as both an unwilling, unknowing pawn and as a potential sexual partner, and both of them are prone to dark, dangerous moods. Of the two of them, Jeb's behavior bothered me far more, though, as he pulls Ye Olde I Am Moving To London With My Girlfriend, But I'm Going To Act Like A Jealous A-Hole Whenever You Talk To Another Dude routine. She does express her frustrations with them on a pretty regular basis, but neither of them does much active listening, and yet, she's still somewhat starry-eyed about them both. It'll very definitely depend on the tastes of the reader, but for me, that aspect of the love triangle made all three characters pretty irritating.
Ultimately, the climax of the story does involve Alyssa asserting herself and her own agency, but it's in a way that might fall into it's own plothole if one thinks about it too hard (though I'm willing to brush that aside as we're talking Wonderland, where nonsense reigns), but that also erases any sort of forward movement on the Jeb Becoming Less Of An Ass front. It's pretty clear that there'll be a sequel, though, so we'll see how it goes.
Overall, mixed feelings, but I'll totally read the next one.
Book source: Review copy via Netgalley.