Book Review: A BLADE SO BLACK By L.L. McKinney

The classic ALICE IN WONDERLAND tale gets a fierce, modern urban fantasy twist in A BLADE SO BLACK!

On the night her father died, Alice Kingston was attacked by a creature from beyond this world known as a Nightmare. Her brush with death was her introduction to her mentor, Addison Hatta, and a universe beyond the veil known as Wonderland. It’s a place of beauty and unexpected splendor, but also home to the Nightmares, dark creatures assembled from human thoughts that terrorize Wonderland and prove even more devastating in Alice’s world. After her first encounter, Alice becomes a Dreamwalker, a world-hopping human responsible for taking down the Nightmares before they run rampant over both worlds.

Alice is pretty excellent at her secret job, but it’s not easy traveling between worlds and fighting monsters while keeping secrets from friends and constantly testing her over-protective mother with her inability to be on time. Just when she thinks she may be able to give up her magical double life, a sinister figure from Wonderland’s past is back and Hatta’s life is threatened. Running an epic race against a curse that could kill her mentor and her curfew, Alice sets on a quest between both worlds that will change her existence indelibly.

It’s important to note that Alice is not meant to be THE Alice, the first human to cross over into Wonderland. She’s not even the first Dreamwalker to fight Nightmares in Wonderland. The novel offers a reimagining of the world, but not a retelling. Still, Alice is quick-witted, intuitive, loyal, and fierce. Her plight between real-world responsibilities and her Wonderland duties is one that she alone understands, and you feel the genuine conflict in her throughout. As a young black woman in Atlanta, Alice and her mother worry about violence at home, especially after a young woman named Brionne is killed at a football game. But Alice knows she has the rare skills needed to take on actual monsters and she can transfer her “Muchness” into true power in Wonderland.

Alice leads a strong cast of characters overall. A few feel familiar like baffling poet Maddi Hatta, but the original characters hold their own. Alice’s mother is delightfully no-nonsense, her friends Court and Chess complement the character. I especially loved the novel’s take on Tweedledee and Tweedledum, two characters who I never enjoyed in the original mythology and many of its adaptations. The relationships do run into some messy territory– like an underdeveloped pseudo-love triangle that didn’t feel necessary and a petty argument meant to keep up the drama– but I rooted for these characters all the same.

With Alice’s Buffy-style perspective and a little less than half the novel spent in modern Atlanta, the vibe is half urban fantasy, half whimsical romp through impossible magical landscapes. McKinney blends the two styles with finesse, highlighting the duality of Alice’s world without making things feel all over the place.

After a couple quick jumps in the beginning, the novel is paced pretty evenly and tells the story over a number of days instead of weeks. I can see why some readers may have wanted to see those first couple chapters fleshed out, but it didn’t bother me much personally. Between action and quippy conversation, the plot moves quickly and there’s always something new around the corner.

A Blade So Black has a high-octane ending that will leave you asking plenty of questions, so let’s all hold out of the big sequel announcement. Because it can’t just END like that!


A Blade So Black hits bookshelves Tuesday, September 25, 2018. You can preorder it now via Amazon or support your local bookstore via Indiebound!

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.

By Kait

Kait is a New Englander, a YA book and adaptation lover, and a Slythindor, as well as a red velvet and red wine enthusiast. She likes to like things. Catch her on Twitter: @kaitmary

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