Review: The Wonderland Trials by Sara Ella
#1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You’ll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which may mean some spoilers, so watch out.
Synopsis: Alice Liddell has been intrigued by the “evil” Wonders and their mysterious Wonderland all her life...but when she receives an invitation to the infamous Wonderland Trials, she realizes there’s more to her fascination than even she knows and more to Wonderland than anyone has the courage to reveal. Will she be able to solve the clues, face her fears, and survive the Trials? Or will she fail at finishing and discovering the truth about the Wonders and Wonderland?
I’m not an Alice in Wonderland fan. I’ve never read the book or watched the original film. Granted, I’ve seen the Tim Burton version...but I don’t reckon that counts, for obvious reasons. *winks* So I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy The Wonderland Trials.
Not to mention, I didn’t like Coral, so I was simply on edge about starting a new Ella novel, almost totally sure that I wouldn’t get into it like I wanted to.
Now, I’m partially right. First of all, this ain’t Unblemished. As luck would have it, nothing but Unblemished is Unblemished, and therefore nothing can compare...BUT there were a few similarities that I noticed, and it was definitely better put-together (i.e., written, developed, and executed) and more immersive than Coral (in my opinion...I’m like the only one who didn’t like Coral).
Second, I felt like had I been a huge Alice aficionado, I would have appreciated the story more. I would’ve picked up on all the quotes and phrases and parallels and just thoroughly enjoyed myself. But I’m not an Alice aficionado, so I did feel like I missed a few things. Actually, for the longest time, I felt more like Ella had just taken names and titles from Alice in Wonderland and slapped them on her own creations rather than retelling the story. Fortunately, once we finally made it to Wonderland, I could definitely see how it was a retelling and how the story will continue to unfold in parallel with the original. Make sense?
Plus I know enough about AIW to know never to trust the Queen of Hearts.
So coming into The Wonderland Trials was a struggle. I was confused. I was distanced from the story. I was still trying to piece together who was who and where was where, which prohibited me from connecting with the characters and following along with the plot. Truth be told, it took me until I was 30% through to actually want to pick up the book (*coughs* my Kindle *coughs*) and start reading. Not to mention the beginning was really quite slow...and just seemed to be going over the same thing fifty-five times (that...maybe have just been me, though).
That said, the slow beginning was probably exactly what I needed to lay the groundwork and introduce me to Alice...because once I hit about 50%, Ella kicked it into high gear!
Then, I couldn’t put the book down! There was so much action and tension, so many new characters and subplots, so many mysteries! Granted, there’s still a lot left unexplained...mainly because once we got to the point where we could start making sense of things, we were being assailed by fearrors (aka, fear mirrors) and poison tea and secret so—and that’s a spoiler. *clears throat* Basically, there was a lot going on at the end there (understatement of the year), so I feel like things won’t start to get clear until the next book.
I NEED THE NEXT BOOK.
On that note, this is one intense plot. I feel like there’s more going on in here than in Unblemished (I am guilty of continual comparison; y’all don’t mind me), but then when I think back on UB (everything must be shortened somehow, y’know), I realize there was a lot going on there. That said, I feel like this plot was full of physical challenges and external conflicts rather than drama.
And don’t get me wrong, I adore drama...but I also love a good mystery. So even though I had a hard time keeping up (so. many. things.), I was totally on board with this wild plot!
For more comparison...the prose was definitely different. It wasn’t vivid and flowery like Coral or so full of the characters’ personalities as it was in UB (y’all, Em’s voice was so real...I think it was the pop culture references and the humor that helped), but it was immersive and detailed while also being balanced. I appreciated that.
More, I loved the Briticisms! It’s extremely rare to find an American novel written in British English, but I love how Ella went that route—from her phrases to her spellings! (All we needed were the quotation marks...then again, I think the single quotes are older British. ANYWAY.)
That extra touch really lent to making Alice’s personality and character pop! Which it did...but I’ll be honest. Even though Alice was vibrant and interesting and unique and not (always) a butt...I still didn’t connect with her. *sobs* I wanted so badly to, but alas. Me and heroines just don’t get along.
AS FOR CHESS, MY PERFECT BOI...y’all. I’m claiming him. He, in all his pink peppermint and cocoa goodness, with his smile worthy of the Joker and his backwards way of talking, is mine. All. Mine.
Also, I’mma go ahead and claim Knave too. I loved him. He was awesome. (I totally ship him and Madi. Just sayin’).
So, yeah, the characters were hands-down the very best part. Chess was literal perfection (so. stinkin’. Sweet.), Madi and Knave and Willow and Sophia were so bright and full of life, Charlotte and Dinah and Blanche were so intriguing. (On that note, I ship Charlotte and Raving too. Pretty sure they already got somethin’ goin’ on there.) I just loved them all, and I am amazed by how each and every one of them are so alive! (All of Ella’s characters are like that, to be honest.)
AND Y’ALL. Stark. Raving. Mad(i). I can’t. It legit took me to 83% to realize that. I just...that was ingenious. I could cry.
(Just gonna say...Madi Hatter was not what I’d expected. At all. *kinda been hoping the Mad Hatter would be a guy...a cute one…* She wasn’t bad; she didn’t didn’t give Hatter vibes. And y’all know who I associate with the Mad Hatter, of course. *winks*)
Lastly...THERE IS AN ALLEGORY. I CAN SMELL IT. IT SMELLS LIKE AN ALLEGORY, AND IT’S DELICIOUS. I LOVE IT.
Okay, so I’m kinda obsessive about allegories (I may smell ones that aren’t exactly there...maybe), but I can totally see how Ella will probably weave in some Christian allegories and themes in the next book, and I am SO down with that! Bring it on!! (And, like, the similarities to UB...like, Scarlett screams Isabeau. And Knave could seriously be Ebony. And of course Chess is Ky, although Ky is much darker. In the cutest, sweetest way possible, naturally. But, like, Kit. Kit is so Khloe. I can see it now…)
(Y’all, I am enjoying this.)
So, yes, it took me a long time to get into the story, but once I did? Oh, yeah, no coming out! I must have the second book. Must have it. (I have a feeling it’ll be even better!!!) This lady and her cliffhangers, I swanny. Even I ain’t that bad. *glares at the cliffhanger for Bound and Dertmined* Eh, I dunno. I’m pretty close. *cackles*
Anyway, I’m drifting. Very far away...where was I?
Oh, yes. I just wanted to mention how much I love the scientific twist. I don’t like reading about magic (unless it’s portrayed biblically), so I thought it was AMAZING that Ella sciencified Wonders and Wonderland and just made them their own wonderful thing without slapping the label magic on it! Basically, it was “magical,” but it wasn’t magic. That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!
And THE. SETTING. I was literally just thinking about how much I wanted an England-set dystopian with Victorian-era vibes, and little did I know that I was about to pick up JUST THAT!!! The dystopian, futuristic, speculative vibes meld so well with fantasy and fairytale aspects, with that dash of historicalness (historicism? Historaceousness?) topping it off like cream with tea! (Or tea with cream, if we’re doing it the British way. *winks*)
LONG SHORT STORY...I’ve made it out of my rabbit hole. Ahem. The Wonderland Trials wasn’t quite what I’d expected—it was better, but not in the ways I’d thought. It was such a crazy, eclectic mix of fantasy Wonderland, Victorian political intrigue, dystopian tension, and YA drama, with a cast of curious characters that I adore and a plot that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat from 50% to The End! (*smirks like Chess* Sorry, I had to.) Seriously, though, you’ll be held in suspense from Page 1 to that darned cliffhanger!
(Also, the way Sara Ella used prologues is pure. torture.)
(I’m totally gonna do the same thing one day. I wonder if she writes in chronological order or throws in the prologue after she’s written the whole thing…)
(Also, if I say “also” one more time, I’mma scream.)
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary review copy from the frabjous author in exchange for my honest review! All opinions expressed are my own!
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about the author
Once upon a time, SARA ELLA dreamed she would marry a prince and live in a castle. Now she spends her days homeschooling her three Jedi in training, braving the Arizona summers, and reminding her superhero husband that it's almost Christmas (even if it's only January). When she's not writing, Sara might be found behind her camera lens or planning her next adventure in the great wide somewhere. She is a Hufflepuff who finds joy in the simplicity of sipping a lavender white mocha and singing Disney tunes in the car. Sara is the author of the UNBLEMISHED trilogy and CORAL, a reimagining of The Little Mermaid that focuses on mental health. Her latest journey into the world of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland feels like coming full circle after her time spent chasing a white rabbit around Walt Disney World. Sara loves fairy tales and Jesus, and she believes “Happily Ever After is Never Far Away.” Connect with her online at SaraElla.com or find her on Instagram at @saraellawrites.