title: a blade so black
author: l. l. mckinney
genre: urban fantasy, retelling
content warnings: death, violence, blood
my rating: highly recommended
i’d been looking forward to a blade so black for so long, and then a few weeks ago i was lucky enough to get my hands on the arc.
a blade so black is a retelling of alice in wonderland, set part in present day atlanta and part in the world of wonderland. we follow protagonist alice kingston as she balances her everyday life of friends, school, and her mom, with her secret life as a nightmare slayer alongside her wonderlandian mentor addison hatta. the nightmares are monsters that originate from wonderland that form because of great tragedy in the human world, and humans are the only ones capable of killing them permanently.
this is an own voices fantasy book with a black main character, where said character is prominently shown on the beautiful cover in all her black glory. this is so rare to find, and so important to lift up. because of the own voices aspect it was also such a captivating read with all these little details that just would have fallen flat if a non-black person had authored it, simply because we haven’t lived that experience and most likely won’t think to include them (and it we did, it still wouldn’t read the same). things like how alice is always really careful with her hair, and how it doesn’t show in the same way when she blushes, and her relationship to her mom.
alice is a relatable and believable character. she is mainly driven by her love for the people around her and always does what she can to protect them, but that (or her enhanced abilities) doesn’t stop her from feeling all the anger, dread, and sadness anyone else would in her situation. she’s not all negative emotions, though. she’s also so full of happiness and excitement and love, which, as i said, i would argue is her main motivator. she’s three dimensional, lovely, and such a teenager. this goes for all the characters around her too (the three dimensional part, not necessarily the teenager part). they are all so clearly their own fleshed out characters with their own wants and needs and the relationships between them are unique. i loved seeing mckinney’s takes on the classic alice in wonderland characters.
this book had me at the edge of my seat so many times. it’s fast paced and action packed but with sweet moments in between, giving me time to breathe. mckinney has the pacing down to a t, she uses time jumps and tells long passages of time where nothing really happens with only a paragraph to keep the book from slowing down too much. there are twists and turns, and the chapters aren’t too long so it’s easy to just fly through this book.
all in all i really loved it. the mix of modern day city and fantasy world is something i always enjoy, and seeing how said fantasy world bleeds into our human one and how it adapts to stay hidden in plain sight is a delight every time. this is a beautiful and captivating debut, and i can’t wait to see what happens next (because thAT ENDING?! OH MY GOD!!). i highly recommend you pre-order or pick this book up on it’s release next week, september 25th.
this was my first real book review in more than a year and a half, and a blade so black is so deserving of being the first one on this new blog. now i just gotta keep it up and continue writing!