(This is part of a series of “book reports” I’m doing – recording my thoughts on the books I’m reading as part of a general desire to read more. This will typically be talking about what I liked or didn’t and why I did or didn’t, generally related to story-telling. It won’t be a discussion of deeper themes and meanings. Comments are always open to tell me your take. Click here to see all the books I’ve talked about.)
Next up is a book I picked up for 0.99 on my Kindle. I was actually kinda misled because I thought it was an Alice in Wonderland retelling with a Zompocalypse angle – and the promo for the book sells it as just that:
Civilization as we know it ended more than fifteen years ago, leaving as it’s legacy barren wastelands called the Deadland and a new terror for the humans who survived- hordes of undead Biters.
Fifteen year-old Alice has spent her entire life in the Deadland, her education consisting of how best to use guns and knives in the ongoing war for survival against the Biters. One day, Alice spots a Biter disappearing into a hole in the ground and follows it, in search of fabled underground Biter bases.
What Alice discovers there propels her into an action-packed adventure that changes her life and that of all humans in the Deadland forever.
Except that I apparently skimmed, drew the conclusions I wanted, and skipped the last sentence (which was, I’ll add, hidden behind the “more” link).
An adventure where she learns the terrible conspiracy behind the ruin of humanity, the truth behind the origin of the Biters, and the prophecy the mysterious Biter Queen believes Alice is destined to fulfill.
A prophecy based on the charred remains of the last book in the Deadland- a book called Alice in Wonderland.
Okay. You win, book. Mea culpa. Lesson learned. Read the whole synopsis.
So it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, but does that mean it wasn’t any good?
Some spoilers, naturally, will follow.
The Breakdown: Alice ends up in a zombie stronghold, killing her way through until she runs out of bullets. She’s ready to fight to the end but the zombies don’t kill her, or harm her at all. Instead they call her by name and bring her to the queen zombie, a chick with enough human left in her to talk and reason. Turns out the queen turned up a copy of Alice in Wonderland and declared it a prophecy that a young blonde-haired Alice would show up and bring peace between the persecuted zombie horde and the evil warlike humans. Then hey, Alice shows up. We proceed from there in a story of persecution and overcoming prejudice and war and including every New World Order conspiracy you can think of.
The plot wasn’t anything special. There were good bits, there were bits that fell short. The characters weren’t all that distinct from each other, often having way too similar speech patterns. Some of the grammar seemed to betray a writer for whom English was not his native language. And Alice’s hair-length was noticeably inconsistent. It was described as long, then short, then long again, all in a very short period, which was confusing. All this could have been fixed by hiring a good editor which would have given Alice in Deadland a more professional polish – but it was what it was.
What kinda did bother me was the constant shifting of POV character. This was written in 3rd person, finally. But the author, Mainak Dhar, jumps from inside one character’s head to another’s frequently, and occasionally from one sentence to the next. It’s only moderately jarring but would have made for a more coherent read with a more consistent voice. My initial thinking was first-time author, but it turns out he’s written a number of other books before this. Power to him.
The Measure of a Heroine
There’s not really much to talk about as far as my thoughts on the plot, but what I do want to do – and I’ll really try to get over the Hunger Games thing soon – is compare Alice to Katniss, because they’ve got remarkably similar stories.
- Both Alice and Katniss are young girls of 15/16 who are the catalysts to affect great change in their respective worlds.
- Both Alice and Katniss live under oppressive regimes in nearly poverty-like conditions. Alice and her tribe scrounge for food as foragers in the Deadlands. Katniss eeks out a meager living in District 12.
- Both Alice and Katniss are warriors in their own right and they’re both marksmen. Alice has been raised to fight Biters and her first friend was a sniper rifle. Katniss is a whiz with a bow and arrow.
- Both Alice and Katniss start their journey and an avalanche of events through one unexpected and rash act. Alice follows a Biter down a hole in the ground to see if the rumours of them nesting are true. Katniss chooses to sacrifice herself for her sister.
- Both Katniss and Alice become embroiled as central figures in these grand plots to overthrow a fascist force. Katniss becomes the figurehead for a rebellion against the oppressive Capitol. Alice becomes the figurehead for an uprising against the militaristic Zeus Army and their Red Guard masters.
- Both Alice and Katniss earn the wrath of the leader of the oppressive force and make it part of their mission to kill them. Alice with General What’s his name. Katniss with President Snow.
What are the differences between the two?
Alice is actively engaged in the story all the way through. While Katniss is an incoherent basket-case half the time, Alice directly rallies the other villages, takes charge of them as an army, leads a guerilla campaign against Zeus and the Red Guard, makes battle plans – that don’t always go right but she can own her mistakes.
“Alice sat down as it all sank in. How many thousands had died because of her one silly decision to jump into the hole after the Biter that had triggers all of this? She wished she could just undo everything. Life had never been easy, but it had been a damn sight better than what she had to deal with now, and as she looked at the dozens of men and women gathered around their camp, she wondered whether she was just going to lead all of them to their deaths as well.”
Being in control forces her to consider strong moral choices.
“Alice walked away with slightly conflicted feelings. On the one hand, part of her felt that her vengeance for the deaths of her family and friends was incomplete, and wanted to continue the battle. On the other hand, she now felt responsible for the thousands of people who depended on her, and didn’t want to throw away their lives for her personal vengeance.”
In the end, she is the one to go after and in a position to kill her enemy, that power isn’t taken from her as somebody else puts a bullet in his head.
In pretty much every way, Alice is a more interesting and superior heroine than Katniss Everdeen.
But it was what it was.