Sunday, February 25, 2018

Mount Toberead 8: Splintered, Unhinged, Ensnared, Untamed and Roseblood by A. G. Howard

As you can see by the title and the covers above I went on a bit of a binge when I got to H.

I also probably cheated a bit. The first 3 of the books were already on the shelves, but for completeness sake I bought the 4th (which is a book of short stories set in the same world and featuring the characters from the Splintered series) and the 5th (an entirely new story that I hope for the author's sake and her fans, is a standalone).

They were my wife's selection (and I think she's read at least the first 2 of the Splintered series), and largely chosen on the strength of the covers, and they are absolutely gorgeous.

The Splintered series is an entry into the various Wonderland related works. Central character Alyssa Gardner is a descendant of Alice Liddell (the girl who Lewis Carroll based Alice on) and as such has very vivid dreams set in Wonderland and also hears bugs speak to her. Alyssa lives in the town of Pleasance in Texas (Texas is also where the author lives, and the town name is a bit of an Easter egg for anyone who knows a little bit about the source material, Alice Liddell's middle name was Pleasance), and her mother is institutionalised for attempting to harm her daughter (this is a recurring theme in Howard's books, the lead character of Roseblood was also a survivor of attempted harm by a family member, in that case it was her grandmother). Alice's  female descendants all seem to suffer mentally because of their origins. Alyssa also claims that Alice suffered from mental illness towards the end of her life (I can't find anything to suggest that this was in fact the case) and was treated with electroshock therapy, using electric eels (again I can't find anything that says Alice Liddell, or Hargreaves as her married name, was ever given electroshock therapy, or that it was ever administered using electric eels to provide the current). I can't work out if the author actually thought this was real or deliberately played with history to have fun with her readers, maybe it was a way of illustrating Alyssa's state of mind, but I'm not convinced that was the case.

Eventually Alyssa does find her way to Wonderland and is accompanied by hunky bad boy Jeb Holt (Howard has a thing for bad boys, there are 2 of them in the Splintered series and 1 in Roseblood). They meet up with Morpheus (the 3rd point of the love triangle) and set about to try and fix Wonderland and in the process help Alyssa's life in our world.

I have to speak about Morpheus here. Plenty of the characters are altered versions of the ones seen in Lewis Carroll's original, heavily influenced by Tim Burton's take, but Morpheus is probably the most changed. He's actually the hookah smoking caterpillar, although metamorphosed into a moth. He is weirdly enough a good deal younger than he was as a caterpillar and now speaks with a Cockney accent. I've never seen any other work that tried to make a romantic connection between Alice and the caterpillar, but Splintered does it. He's actually not just interested in Alyssa, but anyone from her family line, it's just that Alyssa is the youngest and he believes he can keep her that way. That concept and the entire character are actually rather creepy, and I still don't understand why the author or the main character was attracted to him on any level.

Each book in the trilogy follows a different character's journey. Splintered is Alyssa's, Unhinged is Morpheus' and Ensnared is Jeb's. The ending book saw Alyssa faced with the choice of living out her days in the real world with Jeb or staying forever young in Wonderland with Morpheus. The author worked it so that Alyssa got to eat her cake and have it too. I felt rather ripped off by that and think that the readers were shortchanged.

Howard has strengths and weaknesses as an author. For me the weaknesses outnumbered the strengths. She writes fairly strong characters, although she can only write 3 types of characters. Replace Morpheus with Etalon in Roseblood and no one would notice the difference, Rune from Roseblood is basically a dark haired Alyssa and when she write Alyssa's mother Alison as a young teen in Untamed, if she hadn't occasionally mentioned the name Alison I would have been convinced that I was reading about Alyssa. I must admit I did kind of like Jeb, except for when he went all alpha male in the guise of doing right by Alyssa.

Her weaknesses as an author are many. Firstly there's the bad boy obsession. Then there's her taking liberties with actual history to suit her story (she seems to subscribe to a theory that The Phantom of the Opera was in fact some sort of psychic vampire, she also seems to think that The Phantom of the Opera was a factual recounting of events, and not a fiction). There are a lot of very elaborate descriptions of clothes that simply aren't required. No one seems to own a couch or a sofa, they all have chaise lounges. She uses a lot of $5 words when a $2 word would do just fine and probably make her point more clearly.

So why did I read 5 books? That's one of Howard's strengths. She does weave a clever and involving enough story that the reader wants to read to the end and find out what happens, even if she does mess it up by giving her work too happy an ending.

I will mention that the only reason I got through Roseblood was sheer bloodymindedness.

The Splintered trilogy and the associated book of short stories (Untamed) have their moments and are harmless enough pieces of YA fantasy romantic fluff. Roseblood is something else altogether, the only good thing about that book is the cover (and that wasn't drawn by the author). The best review I can give it is: The Phantom of the Opera meets Twilight.

Now that I've managed to climb out of the worlds of A. G. Howard with all my brain cells intact, I'll see what I can find with an I author.