Narrator: Joel Froomkin
Length: 7 hours, 8 minutes
After years in the Red Queen’s dungeon, Hatter is promised his freedom (and to be allowed to keep his head) if he takes on a task. It seems that “boy Alice” (aka Alice’s brother Henry) has somehow ended up in Wonderland and Hatter is to bring the young man before the queen. Seeing as it is either his head or Henry’s, Hatter agrees to track down the young man and bring him to the castle.
Henry grew up hearing fanciful tales from his sister about a place called Wonderland. To be honest, Henry has always assumed Alice is either making it all up or kind of crazy, and their relationship has been somewhat fractured as a result. When Henry wakes up in Wonderland, he can’t quite believe it actually exists. The place seems totally crazy and Henry is almost killed soon after arriving. So when Hatter shows up and offers to take him to the queen who he says can likely send Henry home, Henry agrees to go along with him.
Getting to Henry proved easy, but returning to the castle gets much more complicated. The men journey through dangerous swamps and amidst battles between cookie-baking giants. Time and again their lives are on the line and poor Henry struggles to understand this strange and crazy world. Along the way, the two form a friendship, and then ultimately develop an attraction to one another. But Hatter, of course, is tasked with bringing Henry to his death and escaping the Red Queen is not an easy feat for anyone. She has become increasingly unstable and pretty much any offense is cause for a beheading. Now Henry and Hatter have to figure out if there is anyway to stop the queen before they both lose their heads.
As is likely obvious, this story is a spin on the Alice in Wonderland story, picking up some years after Alice has returned home for the final time. I have been curious about this story ever since reading Jason’s review of the book, and I found it charming and quirky and a lot of fun. Dakota Chase does a great job here taking the original tale and building something both new and familiar. There are many elements that fans of the original story will recognize, such as the Tweedles, Cheshire Cat, the horrific Red Queen, and, of course, Hatter. But Chase adds her own twist to the characters, as well as expanding upon the world of the original story. As always, Wonderland is confusing and silly and at times somewhat maddening, but always fun. I was really impressed at the way Chase spun off the original story in such an interesting way.
From the romance end, the guys start off pretty much as enemies. Hatter is of course secretly there to bring Henry to his death (in order to save his own head). And Henry is grumpy and surly, quite out of sorts, and has no patience for Wonderland nonsense. Chase does a nice job of helping us understand how adrift Henry feels in this strange world, which helped to combat his grumpiness for me. We switch POVs between the pair of them, so we have a chance to learn more about each man and how they often viewed the same situation from totally different perspectives as both a newbie and a veteran in this world. It doesn’t take long for Henry and Hatter to move from dislike to friendship and then attraction. But I think that works given that these guys need to be on the same side in order to figure out how to escape the Red Queen and take her on. I’ll admit I feared Hatter would hide his true task until the 11th hour and the conflict would settle all on his dishonesty about his motives with Henry. So I particularly liked how things take a turn I wasn’t quite expecting, and then a turn I never saw coming. It really made the story fresh and gave things an exciting spin.
This is a young adult story and I found it tame enough for even the youngest readers. Henry is not quite 18 and Hatter is of an indeterminate age (he doesn’t even know himself given the ravages of the curse Time has placed upon him), but the guys feel evenly matched in maturity. There is a bit of swearing and one passionate (and much remembered) kiss between them, but otherwise things are very tame here. However, even as an adult I found this one quite engaging.
I was particularly excited to learn that narrator Joel Froomkin (aka Joel Leslie) was narrating this one, as I am a huge fan of his work. This story was quite well suited to Froomkin’s talents as there are a host of characters, including many who are both strange and wondrous. Froomkin really makes the most out of creating engaging and entertaining voices for all of them and really brings these characters to life. There is a playfulness to this story and Froomkin captures that tone, as well as the wonder and chaos here, quite well. The only thing that I found a bit strange at first is that Henry has an American accent. We never learn where exactly he is from, but it seemed surprising because I always think of Alice as British in the original story. So at first I found it a little bit jarring to hear Henry with an American accent amidst all these folks who sound mostly British. But as the story continued, I began to think it actually makes sense as it really reinforces Henry’s sense of “otherness” that is so pervasive in the story. He is the one who is the fish out of water here, and hearing him sound different from everyone else really emphasizes that.
Overall I found this one really a delight, both in the story and the narration. If you are looking for a fun twist on a well-known story, Mad About the Hatter is a great choice.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.