Something is rotten in the state of Wonderland. Ever since the Alice in Wonderland story was mysteriously disrupted, the White Rabbit has been trying to piece it all together again. Determined and dangerous, he kidnaps people from our world to play the roles of Wonderland characters. Most of the cast is ready—the Hatter, Queen of Hearts, Cheshire Cat, and so on—but he’s having trouble with the most important player. Wonderland is a dangerous place and every Alice the White Rabbit has brought back so far has been killed.
The current Alice—the eighty-ninth person to take on the role—isn’t even supposed to be here; the White Rabbit didn’t select him. The first male Alice, this naive, moody teen somehow got to Wonderland on his own, and he seems to have trouble following the rules. Nor is he totally comfortable with the role he’s supposed to play: in order to secure his identity as the real Alice, he must find and kill the White Rabbit.
In the first two volumes of Are You Alice? we met the current Alice and some of the people who now surround him, including the Cheshire Cat, the Hatter, and the male Queen of Hearts. Alice’s role has been explained to him and he’s caught bits and pieces of the rules that govern Wonderland’s inhabitants. There’s a lot of killing in this world, but it’s actually strictly regulated. For example, the trigger-happy, chain-smoking Hatter can kill Alice’s enemies to protect Alice; the lecherous and sadistic Queen of Hearts can execute anyone who breaks Wonderland’s rules; and the true Alice is the only person who can kill the White Rabbit.
Other inhabitants have rules and motivations that aren’t so clearly explained. Besides their official roles—like the Hatter as Alice’s protector—some characters have agendas and alliances of their own. Volumes three, four, and five expand on the lives of supporting characters. Alice largely remains in the dark, but flashbacks and “meanwhile” scenes give readers a look at the White Rabbit’s frustration, the Dormouse’s plotting, and the Cheshire Cat’s surprising past. There are also hints at the lives various characters led in our world before the White Rabbit pulled them into Wonderland (unsurprisingly, the Queen of Hearts was a serial killer). We even catch a glimpse of Alice’s own origins, which he can’t remember at all.
If all this sounds a little complicated, then I’ve misrepresented it. It’s a lot complicated. The reader comes to this version of Wonderland knowing as little about it as the new Alice does, and the other characters do not make things easier for either one. They speak in metaphor, refuse to explain things, misinterpret each other, repeat messages incorrectly, lie, and generally seem to conspire to make a confusing world even more confusing. This at least helps the reader empathize with Alice, who is usually just as puzzled by everything that is happening around him.
In defense of the rest of the cast, at least they’re pretty. Nearly all the characters are elegant or cute, sometimes both, though they do spend a lot of time spattered with blood. There were some killings in the first two books, but the bodies really start to pile up in volumes three, four, and five, which contain plenty of stabbings, shootings, and lots of blood. There is also more innuendo, especially with the introduction of the flirtatious Caterpillar, one of the few female characters to appear so far.
While the workings of Wonderland remain hazy, there is a definite sense of forward motion: Alice makes decisions and discoveries while other characters take steps toward their own goals. These volumes have momentum that makes the pages fly by, as long as you can approach the plot with the hope that you’ll understand it better later.
Are You Alice?, vols. 3-5
by Ai Ninomiya
Art by Ikumi Katagiri
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9780316252799
Vol. 4 ISBN: 9780316252805
Vol. 5 ISBN: 9780316286183
Yen Press, 2013-2014
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen