Summary: When absent-minded Professor Random misplaces the main character from Alice in Wonderland, young Henry Witherspoon must book-jump to fetch Alice before chaos theory kicks in and the world vanishes. Along the way he meets Winnie Flapjack, a wit-cracking doodle witch with nothing to her name but a magic feather and a plan. Such as it is. Henry and Winnie brave the Dark Queen, whatwolves, pirates, Struths, and fluttersmoths, Priscilla and Charybdis, obnoxiously cheerful vampires, Baron Samedi, a nine-dimensional cat, and one perpetually inebriated Muse to rescue Alice and save the world by tea time.
And here’s my review of this book: Let me begin by saying that this book was like nothing I have ever read. From the very beginning to the last words, I thoroughly enjoyed my read, taking time to re-read and savor things along the way. I think one of the first notes I wrote to myself was that this story is like a fever dream: all floating around and bizarre, but somehow making an odd kind of sense. It’s not the kind of book where you can make everything fall into place, make it behave. Instead, I found it was easier just to lean back and relax into the story, letting it all wash over me. I then could delight in the small things I discovered along the way -- thorn trees that throw thorns; “story-weaving needles;” butterfly trees. I grew to love Winnie, a no-nonsense girl with a courageous heart.
Other readers have compared this story to Alice in Wonderland, and certainly, there is Henry’s search for Alice, and some of the things he encounters are very Alice-like. Mr. Rabbite. Mock turtle. A dormouse. A life-size chess game (more on that later). The story definitely has that queer, somewhat disturbing yet completely intriguing quality that I find in Lewis Carroll’s stories of Alice (Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass). We have characters who encounter beautiful things, and frightening things (sometimes, both at once), and who move from place to place in odd ways.
I loved many things about this story. The main characters, Henry and Winnie are interesting and well-written, and I found I really cared about what happened to them, and how their relationship was going to turn out. They are both pretty straightforward, although Winnie admittedly has more mystery about her, being a doodle witch and all. Winnie’s also Henry’s guide through many of the places in this book, so it’s a good thing that she’s smart and resourceful.
And the places in this book? They’re wonderful and strange. Sometimes, wonderfully strange. Beautiful and disturbing (sometimes, both at once). And that goes for the people, as well. We meet The Count deMorgue, for example, who is darkly charming, and clad in a velvet dinner jacket “in a snappy shade of prune.”* (p. 113) We meet the Muses, all enchanting and intriguing. Baron Samedi makes an appearance, as well. For those of you not familiar with the vodou religion, Baron Samedi is one of the loa, a guardian of crossroads (among other things). He's my favorite of the loa ..... and no, I am not a practitioner - I just like to study different kinds of things.
What’s also wonderful here is the writing. Sasha Soren has a unique way of writing that can be amusing at one turn, thoughtful at the next, and all kinds of things in between. Each chapter begins with a little description, and I found many of these to be interesting and funny, all on their own. Soren is an incredibly creative writer, gifting the reader with all kinds of captivating details and descriptions. I was frequently delighted by things I came across in this story, and really enjoyed how things moved from the light to the dark. What I mean by that last part is: things seem to take a dark turn later in the book, when Henry discovers some disturbing things, and the whole chess game (described in exciting and fascinating detail) is somewhat ominous. In fact, I would say the chess game is completely scary .... I was worried for Henry and Winnie. And then, there are some interesting reflections on love. As many times as I smiled to myself while reading this book, there were other parts where my heart ached. I hadn’t been predicting that when I started the story, but there you are --- things aren’t always what you expect them to be.
This was a clever, twisting adventure of a story -- color me completely charmed.
* let me say that this gave me a flashback to last Christmas Eve, where my sister presented us with a dessert layered with hazelnut spread... and prune filling. It was somewhat odd and a bit disagreeable.