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The Girl In Red by Christina Henry

Christina Henry’s series of reimagined fairy tales continues with The Girl In Red, a post-apocalyptic version of Little Red Riding Hood.

Title: The Girl In Red
Author: Christina Henry
Publish Date: June 18, 2019 by Berkley
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic fiction
Narrator: January LaVoy
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: It’s not safe for anyone alone in the woods. There are predators that come out at night: critters and coyotes, snakes and wolves. But the woman in the red jacket has no choice. Not since the Crisis came, decimated the population, and sent those who survived fleeing into quarantine camps that serve as breeding grounds for death, destruction, and disease. She is just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that doesn’t look anything like the one she grew up in, the one that was perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.

There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes, there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined.

Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods…

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested Ivana says…

After a deadly virus wipes out most of the population, Red—the only surviving member of her immediate family—travels overland toward her grandmother’s house, hoping Grandma has also has survived. Along the way, she encounters packs of ruthless scavengers, the military, some children, one good person, and a possible mutation to the virus that is even scarier and more deadly than the original strain.

Many characteristics of The Girl In Red are familiar for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, particularly The Walking Dead (but without the zombies). However, there are several novel elements and some really good characterization that keep it from feeling stale. For example, Red has a prosthetic leg. Imagine what it would be like to travel 300 miles overland through wooded areas with a prosthetic leg.

In flashbacks, the reader gets a good feel for Red’s life before the apocalypse and her family’s dynamic. They serve as great contrasts to her post-apocalypse experience and demonstrate her resilience.

There is one element I thought particularly fun. Red attributes her knowledge and preparedness for the apocalypse to her love of post-apocalypse genre fiction and movies. Henry doesn’t make the mistake of making Red unrealistically capable—fiction is just fiction after all. Red makes her fair share of mistakes, but she is slightly more prepared mentally because she has some idea of what to expect in a post-apocalyptic situation. One role that fiction entertainment plays in our world is allowing us to mentally “practice” in situations that we have never encountered in real life. Red’s actions in this book are a great example of this.

In contrast, Shakespeare appears often in this book. Red’s mother is a professor of Shakespeare, and so some of his work is embedded in Red’s mind as well. Through her, the reader gets just a small taste of “Compare and contrast the relevance of literary Shakespeare and genre fiction in today’s world.”

I like it when characters in a book are readers themselves. It’s a nod from authors to their fans, an acknowledgment of shared interest and inclusion in The Club of Readers.

There are actually lots of themes that could be teased out of this book for a discussion: family dynamics, race (Red is mixed-race), physical disabilities, human behavior during crises, skills necessary for survival, the material nature of modern life. But the strongest theme has to be that of resilience and its ability to see you through difficult times.

My one complaint about this book is that there isn’t more. The story is told from Red’s point of view exclusively, and she’s not a major player in the apocalypse event, just a victim of it. But things happen in her world that I want to know more about, such as where the virus comes from and how widespread its effects are. And what about the possible mutation? A want to know a LOT more about that mutation! And, as always, I want to know what happens to Red next, after this book ends.

But that’s not the story Henry is telling, darn it. I completely understand why those things aren’t explained in detail—they aren’t part of Red’s story. But my curiosity doesn’t care; I want to know more.

Despite the fact that this book appears to be a stand-alone and not a full-blown post-apocalyptic series, it is an enjoyable read. I felt very invested in Red and some of the characters she interacts with. January LaVoy’s narration for the audiobook is excellent, which makes it that much more enjoyable. If you can stand the “not-knowing,” aspects of this book, I recommend it highly.

Our reviews in this series…

While not quite a real series, here are the books in Christina Henry’s retold fairy tales so far along with our reviews:

The Mermaid by Christina Henry

Christina Henry continues her series of fairytale-inspired retellings with The Mermaid, the grown-up version of The Little Mermaid for cynical adults.

Title: The Mermaid
Author: Christina Henry
Publish Date: June 19th, 2018 by Berkley
Genre: Historical fantasy
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionOnce there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn’t bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.

P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he’d heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he’s determined to hold on to his mermaid.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested Ivana says…

The Mermaid is a grittier, and probably more accurate, tale of the famous P.T. Barnum than The Greatest Showman, though he isn’t the main protagonist. The central character is Amelia, a mermaid whose curiosity drove her to land. The first part of her life on land is somewhat idyllic. But the later part is full of heartache.

I am absolutely in love with Henry’s retellings of Alice in Wonderland (Alice and The Red Queen). So I expected a lot from The Mermaid. But, while it was a good story and a great audio performance, the story wasn’t quite as dazzling for me. Amelia, the mermaid, gets screwed over by men, and is even somewhat complicit in her own screwing over, though she finds her own strength in the end. I think it’s just not quite as novel a story as Alice — a woman getting screwed over by men is an all-too-familiar story these days.

In Alice, I also enjoyed seeing all the elements of the original story that Henry reinterpreted in her grittier version. That part was missing in The Mermaid, though not through any fault of Henry’s. I haven’t read the original H.C. Anderson version of The Little Mermaid, so if there were reinterpretations, I wasn’t aware of them. But I suspect there aren’t as many quirky characters and images as in Carroll’s tale.

Despite those subjective observations, there is nothing bad about the book. The story is well-written and interesting. The characters are believable and sympathetic. I’d recommend it to fans of The Greatest Showman who want a better taste of what P.T. Barnum was really like.

Alice by Christina Henry

2016-standout-award-badge-smallIn this dark twist on a classic tale, Alice struggles to recover from the trauma of her past and her commitment to a mental institution, and to regain her power as an independent and whole person.

AliceTitleAlice
AuthorChristina Henry
Narrator: Jenny Sterlin
Series: The Chronicles of Alice, Book 01
Publish Date: January 25, 2016 (audio)
Genre: Horror, Dark Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionIn a warren of crumbling buildings and desperate people called the Old City, there stands a hospital with cinderblock walls which echo the screams of the poor souls inside.

In the hospital, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place. Just a tea party long ago, and long ears, and blood…

Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape, tumbling out of the hole that imprisoned her, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago.

Only something else has escaped with her. Something dark. Something powerful.

And to find the truth, she will have to track this beast to the very heart of the Old City, where the rabbit waits for his Alice.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested_Ivana_100Invested Ivana says…

What drew me to this book: Reviews for this book are very good, and I like the vintage paper collage look of the cover. I have read some of the books in Christina Henry’s Black Wing series and enjoyed them. Plus, I love retellings of fairy tales. I love the clever ways authors use details from the originals to make a new story.

Why I kept reading: Wow! First off, Alice is not like the Black Wings books. It’s a grittier, harsher, and beautifully written. It’s a different genre entirely; Alice is categorized as horror or dark fantasy. It feels as if the writing intentionally matches the style and sound of Victorian England, in which period the original Alice books were written. Not to the extent that it’s difficult to read, but just enough to give the story character and convey the time period reflected in Alice’s fantasy world.

I adore the way the elements of both original books are used in this story. Having the Walrus and the Carpenter appear as two rival street bosses, for example, is very clever. The uses of some elements are obvious, such as the Cheshire cat or the tea party with a door mouse. Others you may not recognize immediately, such as Alice’s plunge “down the rabbit hole” and swimming through a river of tears, the Mad Hatter, or the oysters that the Walrus and the Carpenter eat.

Though not a young adult novel, one of the themes is certainly Alice coming into her own power as an adult and a survivor of trauma. The book also touches on the idea of loving yourself and others regardless of “imperfections,” and whether or not you can be a good person despite having done some bad things.

I listened to the audio version of this book, and I highly recommend it. The narrator, Jenny Sterlin, does a great job with the voices and the Victorian feel of the book. I’ve already purchased, and am listening to, the sequel, Red Queen.

badge5v4Why I recommend this book: Alice is a clever and well-written dark fantasy that has depth and substance enough to feel literary. The world Henry has created is fascinatingly awful, but watching Alice own her past and take control of her future is incredibly satisfying. Alice is certainly another contender for this site’s Standout Awards this year.

Our reviews in this series…

The Red Queen by Christina Henry

After a horrifying journey through the Old City to win her freedom and her magic, Alice leaves the city with her companion, Hatcher, in search of his daughter and, perhaps, a little peace.

red-queenTitleThe Red Queen
AuthorChristina Henry
SeriesThe Chronicles of Alice, Book 02
Publish Date: July 12, 2016, Ace and Recorded Books
Genre: Fantasy
NarratorJenny Sterlin
Source: Purchased in audio

Publisher’s Description: The author of Alice takes readers back down the rabbit hole to a dark, twisted, and fascinating world based on the works of Lewis Carroll…

The land outside of the Old City was supposed to be green, lush, hopeful. A place where Alice could finally rest, no longer the plaything of the Rabbit, the pawn of Cheshire, or the prey of the Jabberwocky. But the verdant fields are nothing but ash—and hope is nowhere to be found.

Still, Alice and Hatcher are on a mission to find his daughter, a quest they will not forsake even as it takes them deep into the clutches of the mad White Queen and her goblin or into the realm of the twisted and cruel Black King.

The pieces are set and the game has already begun. Each move brings Alice closer to her destiny. But, to win, she will need to harness her newfound abilities and ally herself with someone even more powerful—the mysterious and vengeful Red Queen…

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested_Ivana_100Invested Ivana says…

After listening to and enjoying Christina Henry’s Alice, and Jenny Sterlin’s beautiful narration, I started The Red Queen immediately. It’s just taken quite a while to find a space on the calendar for this review. 😉

Broken though they are, Alice and Hatcher share a great love. Out of that love, Alice commits to the journey to find Hatcher’s daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since she was a baby. Leaving the horrors of the city behind, they expect to find a kinder, more sensible land—once one has escaped a tragic situation, one should live happily ever after, right?

As most survivors know, this is not the case. Alice and Hatcher find just as much insanity, just as much treachery, just as much misery as they did in the city. Alice loses Hatcher to the wiles of the White Queen, who has destroyed the land and its people in her battle with the Black King. Now Alice has to decide who she is and what power she has in order to save Hatcher and reclaim her life.

The Red Queen felt to me like a book about growing up, or maybe about transformation. Alice’s growth as an adult had been stunted because of her time in the asylum. Now she’s escaped her past and the indiscretions of her youth, along with her captivity, and can look forward to her future. She has the chance to remake herself, and now must choose who she will become.

badge4v4This is the last planned book in the Chronicles of Alice. I admit I was surprised by that. Having been told in Alice that Hatcher’s daughter was a famous courtesan in the Middle East, I assumed that the encounter with the White Queen was just an interlude on their way to the end of a trilogy, in which they would find Hatcher’s daughter and rescue her from her own version of The Walrus or The White Rabbit. Plus, I imagined the Middle East might hold some knowledge Alice would need to develop her skills as a magician. However, our protagonist didn’t have to travel as far as the Middle East to rescue children, learn about her magic, or decide what kind of person she would become.

Our reviews in this series…

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