After my last review, in which I recommended that you opt for anything written by Gregory Maguire rather than Daniel Levine’s Hyde, I feel a bit hypocritical, because I found After Alice to be surprisingly mediocre. In his previous works, such as the Wicked series and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (his retelling of the Cinderella tale), Maguire uses well-known stories as scaffolds, as frameworks, and around them he builds rich and fantastical worlds with new characters, details, and perspectives that both fit within and enhance the original narratives. After Alice, on the other hand, is less an expansion of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and Looking Glass and more a rehashing of them. In it, a second child, Ada Boyce, follows Alice down the rabbit hole and traces her path through Wonderland, meeting the same characters and, in some cases, having nearly the same conversations. Maguire is successful in imitating Carroll’s absurdist style of dialogue, but there’s very little that’s original in this portion of the story.
In parallel to Ada’s adventures, we follow the story of Alice’s older sister, Lydia, as she navigates the separate worlds in and around her household. While her father entertains a meeting of intellectuals, including Charles Darwin, Lydia is mostly banished to the kitchen so as not to disturb the guests. There she quarrels with the servants and attempts to avoid Ada’s tiresome governess (who is distraught at having lost track of Ada), while searching for excuses to speak to one of her father’s guests, a handsome young American. Lydia’s story is rather more interesting than Ada’s, primarily because it is more original, and fans of Maguire’s own dense yet poetic style will enjoy this part of the tale.
Generally speaking, After Alice is a short and easy read, more homage than reimagining. Serious Maguire or Carroll fans will likely be disappointed, but those looking for an undemanding fantasy that can be finished in a summer weekend will find something in it to enjoy.