Magic portal artwork by Tithi Luadthong
Today’s Wyrd & Wonder prompt is Magical Location. What could be more magical than Wonderland? I have struggled with whether I should write something, anything, or nothing, about the SPLINTERED series by A.G. Howard. I carried the books around for years because they had pretty artwork and made good Instagram props, but honestly I was miffed and half disgusted reading them.
I pushed through the series mostly out of respect for how long I lugged them around while I moved and travelled and … *Sigh*. If it weren’t for the audiobooks it would have been a no go. I couldn’t have finished. All the pretty artwork and burgundy/purple/blue font in the world can’t fix this!
The gist is that Alyssa’s maternal line is descended from the original Alice who went down the rabbit hole. There’s an interesting story buried somewhere regarding family secrets and what *actually* happened all those years ago.
We spend book one, Splintered, meeting Howard’s questionable take on mental health and learning how wishy washy & stupidly dependent the main character is. Her one “love interest” is possessive and awful despite the fact that they aren’t even dating at first. No one cares about their skateboarding plaid wearing emo drama awfulness. Alyssa has fake dreadlocks made of string that the guy called “tight” and I said, good God can this get stupider?
Well, yes, it can
Moving on to Wonderland, I actually did like Howard’s creepy take on the Fae inhabitants of the other realm. She has good descriptions and maintains that dangerous, wild atmosphere.
I didn’t like Morpheus, who is the only one obviously even more possessive and terrible to Alyssa than the first guy, Jeb. I get that solitary fae are terrible anyway but she never exactly stuck to her guns and said no to him. So we spend about 2.75 out of 3 books watching these assholes literally kill Alyssa as she tries to please everyone and never learns to stand up for herself. There is an outright episode of strangulation in book two that’s apparently excusable and not a big deal because he was given drugs. Please talk to your teens if you buy them this series, I would recommend confirming that they don’t believe this is acceptable behavior under any circumstances.
Anyway, back to the book, when we are in Wonderland, or the looking glass realm, those were my favorite parts. The second book in the series, Unhinged, was my least favorite because 1) we never saw Wonderland and 2) omg the evil queen is attacking PROM and the entire book is about post prom sex that thankfully doesn’t occur.
Ok let’s go there for a minute – by the end of the series, in Ensnared, Howard made Wonderland into a religious afterlife take, which is fine. She kept Alyssa virtuous for both of her weddings, which is great, but she didn’t own the religious theme throughout the series at all. I don’t like when authors just dump it in at the end, and in this case it was a weird take since neither the characters nor series really reflected a lot of christian ideals.
The last book, the collection of novellas, gave a lot of background and closure that she never gave us in Ensnared. I felt like Howard tried to keep doing apologetics for Morpheus and just also failed in negating how disloyal Alyssa was to either guy throughout the series, and, frankly she should have left both of them because emotional abuse is abuse too 🤷♀️ I actually get what she was trying to do with the “split selves” but it just comes across as poor behavior on everyone’s part.
I mean ok I thought the Caraval series was bad and Tella was the stupidest female MC ever, but Alyssa just is so, so much worse. I think it’s hilarious that Stephanie Garber plugged the series because it’s so similar. The girls can’t go one page without being trusting, being betrayed by, “learning their lesson”, and then going back to the guy that’s spinning them around like a yo-yo. Really how much can we take of this? Why did I finish these books?
There was just enough of a story that I wanted to see what happened, and wasn’t too mad. Alyssa’s dad is the only character that I liked and he became a big part of book three, which was my favorite of the entire lot by far. The looking glass world was interesting and there wasn’t actually a terrible plot at heart with the manipulative red queen and all the terrible things happening in Wonderland.
Lord I just wish the characters weren’t so terrible. And I didn’t like that book two kept us only in the real world. As far as the audiobook, how did this take place in a small town in Texas yet only one character had a southern accent? He also sounded like the voice that young kids make when they’re making fun of a dumb person and try to use a low, flat octave.
It’s so bad, I can’t reconcile these pretty books with how much I don’t even think teens need to be reading them. The most telling fact is that book one had 61,000 ratings while book three didn’t even clear 20k. A lot of people got bent out of shape over the mental health aspects, but I get it, I mean we do terrible but necessary things to psych patients even in the hospital so I’m assuming they do it in care centers too if worst comes to it. It was definitely fictionalized though. The glorifying and apologetics regarding partner abuse was the other thing bringing a lot of reviewer criticism and that’s the one I don’t think teens need. Learn to say no and stick to your guns.
That said, at the end of the day I can see where these were fairly popular books but I don’t think they’re going to hold up well. I rated the first two books 2/5 stars and the third and fourth (the stories collection) 3 stars.
There’s a decent plot there and a lot of good ideas but you have to wade through a LOT of shit to find it