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The Nightmare-Verse #1

A Blade So Black

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A Blade So Black delivers an irresistible urban fantasy retelling of Alice in Wonderland... but it's not the Wonderland you remember.

The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she's trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.

Life in real-world Atlanta isn't always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice's handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she's ever gone before. And she'll need to use everything she's learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.

Debut author L.L. McKinney delivers an action-packed twist on an old classic, full of romance and otherworldly intrigue.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published September 25, 2018

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L.L. McKinney

25 books1,114 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,768 reviews
Profile Image for Kaylee.
39 reviews28 followers
February 7, 2019
The amount of negative reviews this book is getting from butthurt white people because the author tweeted saying whiteness tires her so much is fucking ridiculous. Reverse racism does not exist. Plus, the fact that it took a black woman tweeting a pretty valid negative thing about white people caused such an uproar is very telling. Where were all of you people with these negative reviews concerning *actual* problematic books and authors? This is why people of color are so adamant about not giving a fuck about us white people. The minute they say something negative about white people we feel the need to make their feelings all about us. So, please, for the love of God, when a person of color says something negative about our race, stop a minute and actually think about why they feel this way because, after all, we did some pretty fucked up things to people of color.

Anyway, this books sounds right up my alley. An Alice in Wonderland retelling with a black MC? I'm in 100%.

Edit 1/10/2018:

We have a cover and it is gorgeous! <3

AND the little snippet sounds amazing! I need this book ASAP.

Edit: 2/7/2019

I don't really have much to say other than I need the sequel right now.
March 13, 2023
1/10/18 - Holy maple bacon cupcakes batman, that COVER!!! That cover! That cover gives me #BlackGirlMagic feels all up and down my spine! It's everything and it's why #representationmatters.

I've been meaning to write an actual review but really all I can say is
I wish a book like this existed when I was a little Black nerd girl who grew up on a steady diet of Mighty Isis, The Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman and Emma Peel. Alice was total #heroinegoals and the Nightmare-verse was definitely harrowing. So much to relate to, especially trying to hide anything from a concerned and no nonsense mom. I also appreciated the realism - Alice wasn't superhuman - she actually got HURT in many of the battles she engaged in. It's annoying to read stories in which human characters are written like they're made of steel.

I'd been totally looking forward to this retelling of Alice in Wonderland with a Black heroine, but I follow the author on Twitter and she tells some ugly truths about the publishing industry, authors and racism in general that too many people want to bury their heads in the sand over.

BIPoC authors have to jump through hoops to get recognition, much less a chance to be published. A BIPoC author can't afford to be mediocre, even though there are lots of mediocre White authors with huge contracts and publicity.

To those whining about "another PC rewrite", allow me to remind you of the most recent remakes of Little Women, Emma and Batman. ALL with white characters. So it's more than fair for BIPoC authors and characters to put their spin on the classics.

I will read White authors who write inclusive characters and who do so in a complex, non-stereotyped fashion. They don't deserve a brownie button for doing so because the world is diverse and contrary to popular belief, so is the readership. That's not my problem. I just want to see more BIPoC authors spreading their wings and imaginations and not being told "we have our quota of Black/Brown/Asian/Middle Eastern/Native American characters", only to fall all over themselves when a White author pens a work with a BIPoC character, especially when that BIPoC character lacks any sort of nuance or serves as magical negro status.

There is no BIPoC equivalent of E.L. James (which is a good thing in my opinion). Still they should be given the chance and not held to an unfair standard. Nor covers whitewashed.

Asking for inclusion and equity in the industry has some whining about "reverse racism" (no such thing by the way). #OwnVoices is about PoC authors writing the kinds of stories they want to tell - and not the New York publishing cabal pushing limited subjects such as slavery, poverty, war, arranged marriages, tiger moms and other stereotypical themes.

There's a certain irony about people who are upset with McKinney for not being politically correct when there's an Orange Shitgibbon sitting in the White House who bragged about the same thing (and people liked that). The hypocrisy should escape no one. She's not personally angry at authors (unless they commit epic racefail). She's angry, and rightfully so, at an industry that refuses to get its act together and be more welcoming of diverse voices.
Profile Image for Tanya Tate.
228 reviews116 followers
April 4, 2022
Edit: July 22 2020 Surprise Surprise! I bet you didn't see this coming!

Book Stats 
Stars: 2 Stars
Start Date : 6/26/20
Ending Date: 7/22/20 
Genre: YA Fantasy ,Retellings
Form:  Audiobook/ Ebook
Page Count: 384
Publishing Date: 2018
Point of View:  3rd Person
Setting: Atlanta, GA, Wonderland 

You can read it on my blog!

Note: Due to the fact my real review of this book is kind of long, I ran out of character space. So I removed most of my two OG non reviews to the end of my blog review. I have to keep the legacy some kind of way lol.

I know this is very unexpected which is the reason why I never marked it as me reading because I wanted it to remain a surprise.

Since my non-review of her book which explains her past comments she made before this book come out has over 150 likes on GR. I have more likes on this than I do my actual reviews. lol

A lot of people maybe wondering why I decide to read this book now and the answer is simple .

I found out that L.L was a Sailor Moon fan. Plain and Simple.

I supported Marissa Meyer when I found out that she wrote SM fan fiction and I supposed SJM after I found out she was an moonie.

I will always make it my mission to support Moonies since SM was my very first fandom before I was even a HP fan. Especially black moonies like L.L and Roseanne Brown in which I stopped reading her book for a min so I can read L.L's

Also the fact L.L do be making some points on how the publishing industry needs to help black and poc authors with publishing their books but it just the way she goes about it can be seem harsh to say the least... 

But enough of that I'll talk more about L.L towards the end of the review.

So I have made it known for a while that I don't like Alice in Wonderland which I think had something to do with the Disney animated version. I stayed away from retellings of it which the only one  I have tried before to read Marissa Meyer's Heartless in which I gave it a 1 star. I guess I never liked the treatment Alice receive during her travels in Wonderland so that's why I never liked it.

So after consideration of the things I stated above ,I decide to give this one a try.

At first I really thought I was finally going to find a version of AoW that I really liked but after the first 25% of it..

Yeah Lets just say that Alice should have stayed in Atlanta away from Hatta.

So this was marketed as Alice of Wonderland Meets Buffy and for the most part is does have that feel which I'm going to talk about in min but let me talk about our characters.

Alice-  A Black 17 years old Girl who lost her dad from an heart attack. Become a dream walker after meeting Addison Hatta the same night her dad died when she left the hospital and a nightmare attacked her.. Trained with Hatta for 3 months before entering Wonderland and had been a Dreamwalker for over a year.  Was planning on retiring from being a dream walker since her mom becoming worried with her safe when a black girl got murdered. That plan went out the window when her last mission to purge ( aka cleansed with her Figment Blades aka special blades made from dust from Wonderland)  a nightmare she  killed a previous mission went wrong. When she met the black knight in which attacked her and told her to give a message to Hatta. Now going on a journey in order to find the heart in order to save Hatta. Loves to cosplay in which she had on a Sailor Fuku when her dad died. Dressed up as Princess Serenity for her best friends Birthday/Halloween party.

Wonderland- A magical place where dreams reside.

Dreamwalker - a human who can travel into wonderland to defeat the nightmares and because of this dream walkers can't dream.

Nightmares are born out of fear and anger from humans. They almost remain me of the Nobodies in Kingdom Hearts. 

Addison Hatta- Alice Mentor. Trained her to be a Dreamwalker since he become exiled from Wonderland. He was exiled because he worked for the Black Queen which was the Queen of Wonderland before she become corrupted after the death of her daughter. He defecated from her in order help her two daughters( Red and White Queen) win the war against their mom and saved wonderland. Was the OG Black Knight. Was poisoned with a Madness by a person posting as Black Knight. Potential Love interest

Maddi- A potion maker who works with Hatta who owns the pub, Looking Glass Pub,that holds the gateway to Wonderland.

Dee and Dem AKA Dimitri and Demarcus Tweedlanov- Dreamwalkers from Russia who helps Alice with Nightmares from time to time. Has a mentor name Anastasia aka the Duchess which is almost like Hatta.

Odabeth- The White Queen Daughter and Black Queen Granddaughter.  Is the the presenting Queen of the white Castle since her mom was attacked by the Black Knight. Goes with Alice along with Xelon ( the white knight and potential lover of Odabeth) to the real world to recover the Eye in order for them to find the heart.

The heart is an artifact that supposed to be with the Red Queen that supposed to heal people from the madness sickness. Is currently lost since the Red Queen is lost.

The eye is an artifact that supposed to be with the White Queen that supposed to see all things. Is currently lost but it presume to be in the real world

Black Knight- The villain who is turning humans into nightmares called fiends. Who also poisoned Hatta and the Oathbeth mom, the white queen. He also wants the Eye.

Black Queen- Was the OG Queen of Wonderland, Mother of the Red and White Queen. Was corrupted with darkness once her daughter died.

Courtney- Alice best friend who got pissed off when Alice didn't show up at her birthday. Didn't realized  the Alice was freaking knocked out for a whole damn day thanks to the Black Knight attacking her which supposed to have been her retirement mission.

Chess- Alice and Courtney classmate from school. Another Potential Love Interest.

Alice Mom- Someone who is worried about Alice after the death of a black girl. A No Nonsense Black Mom.

The first part of the book was probably the best part of the book for me. I kind of liked the fact it time jumped and we only seen Alice completing her training ,seeing her go into Wonderland for the first time then time skipped to when she's been a Dreamwalker for a whole year. I was thinking like 25% of the book would be gone by the time she meets Hatta and goes into Wonderland.

Honestly I liked the whole idea of Dreamwalkers and the fact Wonderland was the place where nightmares end up at. It almost felt like the Digital World in Digimon or one of the lands Sora travels to in Kingdom Hearts. L.L's Wonderland felt different and fresh compared to Lewis Wonderland which is good since it supposed to have been a re imagining of Wonderland.

But after that it started to go down hill and honestly in order for me to make this review I had to seriously look up a summary because I couldn't remember people names becuase they were so one dimensional/bland. 

It's three things in this book that bothered me the most dealt wit Alice.

1.Alice disregard for her mom being worried for her- Yes I understand Alice is a 17 year old teenager but the fact instead of laying low for one day and not sneaking out the house after she didn't come home for a full day ( which wasn't her fault since she got attacked) she did it anyway to see Hatta. It was like " Girl! Really Lay low for just one day! Your mom already grounded you and she may kill you the next time. "  Then another scene when she come back from Wonderland which it was just a day in the real world and her mom wanted her to come home at certain time but she disregarded that again to go hunt for the pieces of the eye. Its like " Girl! Go home for a second. Make sure your mom knows you are ok then go look for the eye. " You are dealing with a black mom who wouldn't mind say " I bought you into this world and I'll take you out!" You just do things in order to keep to peace which Alice didn't do at all. Since her mom is worried about her since that girl got killed who was around Alice age. So you would think she would have more consideration about what her mom is going through with her losing her husband only a year ago and then a girl who almost Alice age got killed which got her thinking that she could lose Alice.  But no it's all about sneaking out to save Hatta..

Hatta! Hatta! Hatta! Hatta!Hatta! Hatta! Hatta! Hatta! Which goes to by next point.

2.Alice and Hatta- Omg I could have done without this so bad!! I could have done without her getting romantic feelings for someone who can be seen as her Teacher/Mentor at best. (It almost felt like Giles and Buffy which really become a Father/Daughter relationship when the series went on.)  In which we don't know the age difference between the two at all.  In which she kind went one track minded and was only thinking about him when trying to go after the heart to save him . Then her getting jealous at Duchess for her being concerned for Hatta's health. I understand she's 17 and this probably her first big crush but girl! Cool it! I'm side eyeing the fact that L.L is a SM fan which means she could have easy taken the dynamics of Usagi and Mamoru ( Manga not Anime) and incorporated into her dynamics with Alice and Hatta.

3.This weird makings of a love triangle between Alice, Hatta and Chess-  Alice is pretty much all " Hatta! Hatta! Hatta! Hatta!Hatta! Hatta! Hatta! Hatta!" through the majority of the book but then she almost kissed Chess and almost went to the movies with him. So Alice What it going to be??

I found myself eye rolling so hard at Alice actions because she was acting like a 13-14 year old and not a 17 year old.

She was killing nightmares like Buffy killed Vampires so that's why it was getting compared to Buffy.

I thought all the Sailor Moon references would have saved it for me which it didn't at all.

Everyone else felt so one dimensional that it wasn't even funny which the only four characters who had potential to be interesting was the twins, Xelon and Odabeth.

I really didn't like Hatta that much since Alice through he was the best thing since slice bread.

Also it felt very convenient that they found all pieces of the eye in like 4-5 chapters..

Also the fact the book pretty much takes place in like 6 days real world time...

I would love to know more about her cosplaying with her dad but he was just a plot device to get us to know Hatta so she can be heart eyes about him for the majority of the book.

I know nothing about Alice expect the fact that she loves to cosplay.Even tho she supposed to have these light powers that supposed to be power but that's it. It's nothing else interesting about her if it's not involving around Hatta and Wonderland. Sure she got a best friend but that just it. Alice needs to be a more well round character who have more interest and dreams. She supposed to be a at least a junior or senior in high school and it was no mention of her going to college or anything.

I'm just going to say again what I said in my 157 liked non review..

" Yay Alice is black but what else? What else about her is going to make me interested in reading her story since I'm already not a big fan anyway? Oh she can kick ass! Yay! *"

Which I was right. It's nothing else to this story expect Alice being a black girl living in Atlanta who like to cosplay.

We need more black female fantasy characters out there but they need to be good. I stopped reading a potential really good one in Songs of Wraith and Ruin to read this.

I just really wanted BlackGirlMagic to the max since I already dnfed another one with main character was only thinking about her wannabe woke boyfriend. (Slay)

Before anyone say it,Yes I love romance in books (especially fantasy books)  and yes I want my black main females to have love interest that got their backs but I want them to have others things to think about besides a boy that is one dimensional.

Now that I think about it, the fact they we did time jump a year between her first going into Wonderland to her about to retire from being a Dreamwalker probably hurted their development. Since we don't see the interactions they had during that year for her to develop romantic feelings for him. So that's why it felt like she's all about " " Hatta! Hatta! Hatta! Hatta!Hatta! Hatta! Hatta! Hatta!" in the majority of the book.

So really this book has the makings of being a really good book but it just mediocre at it's best. So I'm not going to read the next two at all.
Let me also post this gem from my non review

"I'm all for diversity but don't let diversity be your only selling point while your story and characters lacks.."

Which I was right again! I predicated the whole book without even reading it two years before I read it! lol

I leave with this nugget.

If you going to be one the main leaders/biggest voices on twitter trying to change the climate of the publishing world to get more publishing companies publish more Black and PoC authors and also almost getting other books not published from a PoC author because you claim that book is racist, make sure your work is not mediocre at is best.... You can't lead the charge when you are lacking the skills to lead and be an influence..

Make sure your bite matches your bark because if it doesn't people don't want to listen to you.

Edit: May 30 2019
Can yall please leave my post alone? Seriously. I'm getting more comments on this than on my actual book reviews.
Thank you The OG post will stay up here.

OG Post
A couple reasons why I'll probably not going to read this.
1. I'm not a big Alice in Wonderland fan so it's already doesn't interest me.
2. Alice is black in her retelling as the ONLY selling point of her story.....Yay Alice is black but what else? What else about her is going to make me interested in reading her story since I'm already not a big fan anyway? Oh she can kick ass! Yay! *eye roll*
So thanks but no thanks.
I'm all for diversity but don't let diversity be your only selling point while your story and characters lacks..
Edit:Two definitions people need to know
Racism: a system in which a dominant race benefits off the oppression of others.
Prejudice:an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge.
To all intended purposes, L.L Mckinney is prejudiced against whites but not racist due to the fact that she DO NOT have the power to oppress them aka keep opportunities away from them. Yes her comments are extremely unacceptable and should be called out like it but it's her being prejudiced against whites. She doesn't have the power to keep someone from having a job or in a bad economic situation.
Profile Image for jv poore.
616 reviews215 followers
February 7, 2023
Alice is beyond badass in Ms. McKinney's pumped-up, re-imagined Wonderland. A Blade So Black is the epitome of what gets me excited for "my" students.

Although, I could kick myself for finishing this one without having the follow-up, A Dream So Dark, right beside me.
Profile Image for Joanna J..
8 reviews
October 5, 2018
First, let me start with things I liked about the book: that cover is gorgeous! Any book lover knows a good cover is LIFE, am I right?! I also like the concept behind the book, because Alice in Wonderland has never felt like the tame, docile movie Disney spun out. A darker, more vicious story sounded awesome. I really appreciate LL McKinney's creative take on a classic story, and I'm a huge Buffy fan, so I loved that concept as well! I was disappointed with the actual realization of this character merge, but it gets points for being a good idea.

Second, the issues I personally had with the book: the writing and the actual story wasn't as on point as I was hoping it would be. I didn't really like the characters or the "quest" of the book. Unfortunately, to me, the characters all felt like they were written from a basic bag of trope. I also never got into the plot, and the world building wasn't that great. Perhaps it's because the writing wasn't particularly excellent, but as it's LL McKinney's first book, I am sure she will grow as a writer in future books. This book wasn't especially well-crafted in my opinion, but everyone has their own unique taste in what they like to read.

When I review books, I like to warn readers about potentially problematic material. It doesn't mean the material will offend everyone, only that it MIGHT. I warn readers on Goodreads and other platforms if there is possible triggering material or explicit language etc, but readers might want a heads up. So here's my "heads up" regarding this book before a person choses to spend their hard earned money. Readers should also be aware that LL McKinney expresses a great deal of animosity towards white readers and reviewers on her social media platforms, and if someone disagrees with her, she quickly labels people and attacks them as she expresses a "problem of whiteness." This mentality is found throughout her book, and it is only right for readers to know this before reading her story. I appreciate her passion to speak out for diversity, but I think readers and parents who might purchase this book for their children should know she expresses issues of race with a great deal of vitriol and hatred. I'm assuming LL McKinney wants support from all reading demographics, but I don't she will get it by attacking readers. As a woman of color of the Latinx culture, I see the vociferous language she uses in real life and throughout her story to potentially fuel hatred instead of equality. Does my opinion matter less or should if I am not African American? Is my opinion automatically ignorant or racist for objecting to the language LL McKinney uses when speaking about "white ignorance"? Reviews exist not so readers can blindly support an author, but to respectfully inform other readers of what they did or did not enjoy about a book.

I subscribe to the belief that we cannot fight hatred with hateful, bitter language or behavior. I personally cannot support this author, though I support the cause she is promoting. I only wish she would do it in a manner that promoted unity, inclusion, and education instead of expressing herself in a manner that comes across as derisive and belligerent.

Having said all that, readers should decide for themselves if this is a book that sounds interesting to them, and if this is an author they want to support by purchasing her book.
Profile Image for Terry Bell.
1 review2 followers
April 19, 2017
Not to brag, but. *I* got to read an early draft of this, and if you're jealous right now? You should be. Alice is the ass-kicking, Sailor-Moon-cosplaying, out-Buffying-Buffy heroine you didn't know you were waiting for. <3
Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews54.6k followers
September 16, 2021
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is my favorite book.

I read it at least once a year, every year, and every time I get something new from it. I love the writing. I love the characters. I love the silliness. I love that it works on the surface level as a whimsical children's classic and I love that it works thematically, symbolically, motif-ly (?) on multiple other levels.

And so maybe it is not surprising that I cannot stop picking up retellings of it, and I never like them ever.

Until now, ish.

I picked up this book, pretended that it had nothing to do with Alice, and...enjoyed myself?

I had a hard time focusing on it, to be honest, to the extent that I felt like I read an audiobook of this even though I didn't. It just never fully grabbed my attention, and I didn't like the characters enough to counteract that.

But I'm not writing a one-star rant review like I have for...every other Alice retelling I've read.

This was a fine book! That's progress.

Bottom line: Character development! Not for any characters in this, but for me.


i actually...didn't hate this?

and all it took was pretending it had nothing to do with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

review to come / 3 or 3.5 stars

tbr review

i have never liked a retelling of my favorite book, but that sure does not stop me from picking them up
509 reviews2,413 followers
August 2, 2018
this is basically just city of bones + twilight (alice in wonderland version)

DNF @ 46%

Review copy provided by Macmillan in exchange for an honest review! Thanks so much!
Profile Image for Tori (InToriLex).
463 reviews367 followers
October 23, 2018

This was written perfectly to appeal to black teens who never knew they could enjoy fantasy. Alice is a courageous teen who discovers her own power to kill monsters called Nightmares from the mysterious Wonderland. She has to grapple with real monsters in Wonderland while also dealing with the trauma of feeling unsafe and gun violence in her neighborhood. Alice's best friends are Courtney and Chess they make endearing jokes about race and try to empathize with her experience. All of the characters were well developed which added great realism and contrasted well with whimsical Wonderland.

I was pleasantly surprised by how multifaceted the plot and story was. Alice is tormented by guilt because she has to be supportive for her family while leaving for long periods to kill Nightmares. While she trains with her mentor Hatta to navigate Wonderland she has to deal with normal teenage hormones and romantic feelings. Alice is not the only one who is recruited from our world to hunt and kill Nightmares. Dee and Dum are Russian teenage boys who hunt Nightmares to keep them at bay, they work with Alice as she encounters evil in Wonderland. The magical grasses, bubbles and strange passage of time in Wonderland created satisfying world building. The action was believable and the fast pace kept me engaged the whole time.

"And to those black kids searching countless shelves and between endless pages, hoping to catch a glimpse of themselves in galaxies far away, fantasies long ago, and stories here and now: this one's for you. Shine on, and drive back the darkness."~Author's Note

The stakes are high, the villains are awful and the diverse representation was refreshing. Some of the romantic elements were less than perfect but that was a small part of the book. The ending left me wanting more after a cliff hanger. I'm hoping that this is the beginning of a new series because I want to return to these characters and learn more about how they will continue to battle the evils of Wonderland. This was a really enjoyable read I would recommend to all readers.

Recommended for Readers who
- enjoy action packed and multifaceted fantasy's
- want to return to the wonderful whimsical Wonderland
- appreciate racial and sexual diversity
Profile Image for Lisa (Remarkablylisa).
2,289 reviews1,830 followers
September 25, 2018
I received an arc from Raincoast Books Canada in exchange for a honest review. 

When I first saw the cover of this book, I screamed. I loved the cover so much and when I read what the book was about--an Alice in Wonderland retelling--I screamed even louder. So imagine my disappointment when I read the first couple of chapters and really, really, really, couldn't push through another page. 

Firstly, the writing isn't very good. It's a fantasy with whimsical elements that if executed well could soar to the top of the NYT Bestsellers' list. However, the writing was not descriptive enough for it's intended purposes. Readers were left confused at the scenery described. Where were the characters? How did they move from this location to the next? The writing seemed very chunky, allowing readers to lose interest in the story very quickly. 

I was just so confused while reading this one that I couldn't justify me spending another hour on wondering what was happening. Because I literally can't recall much about it except our main heroine, Alice, went through a traumatic death of her father and is saved by Hatter? Hatter takes her into this magical place and they battle Nightmares? And he's too weak to do it on his own and she's such a special snowflake because she learns everything so quickly and has a natural talent for it. It also had a lot of time jumping from before and after and it was a mess I couldn't trudge through. 


Others who have more patience than me read and loved it so try it out for yourself? Maybe download a sampler first before you decide to spend so much money on this confusing piece.
Profile Image for J.A. Ironside.
Author 57 books328 followers
May 17, 2017
Ok, I probably wasn't going to read this in any case because aside from any other issues which have been raised, I've never read an 'Alice' re-telling or re-imagining which has in anyway captured the spirit of the original. So that kinda makes it an automatic pass.

Having said that, I'm really not comfortable with the way people are rating this book when they haven't read it. I ended up reading several books because people were rating them 1 star without reading them - including 'the Black Witch' and 'Carve the Mark' - just so I could give an honest review.

Personally, I really don't like the author's attitude and how she delivers her rhetoric is deplorable and just doesn't help her case at all. BUT it would be just as dishonest to rate this 1 star without reading it as it was for all those people who leapt on the band wagon over 'The Black Witch' and rated it 1 star without reading the book. (Incidentally rating it 5 stars without reading is a bit squicky but hey that's probably not going to harm sales so if you're comfortable doing it then, who am I to stop you? I'm not your Jimminy Cricket, that's for sure.)

So maybe we could all just not rate the book before it's even available to read?
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
2,085 reviews5,061 followers
June 25, 2020

I'm so sorry ya'll. I wanted so badly to love this book and I didn't. It wasn't a bad book, but it wasn't a great book. It definitely fell middle of the road for me. While I loved the idea of a Black Buffy the Vampire Slayer thrown into an Alice in Wonderland world, I was completely and totally not feeling any of it for most of the book. The main issue with this book was the pacing. Readers are literally thrown into a fantasy world within the first few pages of the novel without any significant world building. I'm not saying that McKinney had to spend a great chunk of the book world building; however, I do believe that without this initial world building the reader is left feeling rather confused and unaware of Alice's relationship with other characters. I also had an issue with the fact that Alice goes through this significant event of her father passing and that trauma is never truly dealt with considering that the creatures in this world are attracted to sadness, fear, grief, etc. I think more text should have spent addressing this lack of emotional development and healing. This disorganization of this and world building really turned me off from truly enjoying the book the way I wanted to.

A couple of things that I really enjoyed included the relationship dynamic between Alice and her mom. That reminded me so much of the relationship that I have with my own mother. Like Alice's mother, my mother was always tough on me, but there was/is never a doubt in my mind that she did everything that she did because she loves me. I also loved that McKinney allowed Alice to stay true to her Black heritage/culture. Nothing grinds my gears more than a character that is Black, but then ends up becoming white-washed. I wasn't expecting to hear the consistent use of AAVE, but I was definitely here for it.

While I had some reservations about this book, I did enjoy what McKinney was attempting to do with this world and the complex relationship between dreams, nightmares, fear, and "Wonderland." The big reveal wasn't really surprising and didn't have as much impact as he intended. I am interested in seeing how this is all going to play out in the second book so more than likely I'll be picking up the second book on audio as well. I would like to note that McKinney does have a very distinctive writing style that comes off as choppy and unorganized. It's definitely a writing style to become accustomed to and it won't be liked by a lot of readers.
Profile Image for Stacee.
2,739 reviews711 followers
September 25, 2018
I had seen a lot of talk about this one, but didn’t realize it was an Alice in Wonderland retelling until recently and I was so excited for it.

I liked Alice well enough. She’s loyal and she means well, but she came across as bratty and ungrateful. Yes, yes, classic teenager attitude, yet when you’re legit never home and your mom is extra worried due to a neighborhood girl being recently killed, maybe don’t be a dick. There is a pretty large cast of characters here, but I wasn’t really drawn in by any of them.

Plot wise it was meh. The world building and aspect of Wonderland I was looking for were both non-existent. There were a lot of clunky sections of prose and I just couldn’t settle into Alice’s inner monologue. It seemed like a lot of telling, no showing.

Overall, it was an interesting idea with an ending that had me intrigued, but the execution didn’t work for me. If this turns into a series, I’m not sure I’ll be continuing.

**Huge thanks to Imprint for providing the arc free of charge**
Profile Image for Alice-Elizabeth (Prolific Reader Alice).
1,157 reviews161 followers
September 18, 2018
DNF @ 45%

I was on the promotional blog tour for this book! I received a digital ARC for review via the website NetGalley.

I really wanted to like this one, since my name is Alice, I was named after Alice in Wonderland but for me, I was not connecting with the writing style. The pacing was far too slow for me, with a lot of telling and not showing. Alice is a POC and has two lives: One in Atlanta, USA and the other in Wonderland. I liked the element of battling creatures in Wonderland but it wasn't enough for me to keep reading on.
Profile Image for Sara (A Gingerly Review).
2,699 reviews160 followers
August 23, 2018
Yall, no. The writing is not my style. It is choppy, rough, and difficult to get through. There is no fluidity to it at all. This is a book that didn't show me what was happening, it told me. I never connected with any part of this at all.


Full review can be found here: https://agingerlyreview.wordpress.com...

If you ever want to talk about a book that was an absolute struggle to get through, pull up a chair and get cozy because we’ll talk about this book. And you better clear your calendar beforehand because it will be a long conversation.

Short recap: Alice in Wonderland retelling but Alice is a POC and has Buffy-like responsibilities. What more do you need to know?

Here is the biggest thing to know about this story: disappointing. I was so excited for this as it was a fairy tale retelling and who doesn’t love those? So why was this such a rough story? Number one: the writing was choppy, unstructured, confusing, and just all around bad. Number two: unoriginal take on the well known plot. It was boring. Number three: so many inconsistencies within the storyline itself. Number four: no development or explanation or backstory or anything. I will elaborate a little further…

The writing had absolutely no clear structure to it. Instead of the words flowing and pulling the reader (me) into the story, it felt like a metric ton of sentence fragments. Picture interrupted thoughts strung together in the hopes that it just makes sense. There were no similes, no creative descriptions. This was a hard core case of the author telling the reader (me) what was going on instead of showing me. I’m not a fan of that.

The overall storyline was just not that original. I can see what the author was trying to do but failed big time. With the writing style being as choppy as it was, it made it that much harder for me to really understand what was going on – ergo – I didn’t care about the actual story. What a shame.

The inconsistencies peppered throughout the entire story left me with a headache. The reader (me) was told in the beginning of the story about some big fight scene (remember – the writing simply told me a fight took place so I couldn’t picture it) but apparently that first chapter took place several months after the prologue but it was not ever stated. I just had to come to that conclusion on my own. HUH? The reader (me) was never given the backstory on Alice’s training, I just had to go along with whatever was written. That’s difficult to do when I’m told how much of a badass Alice was but never given any true reason to believe it. I didn’t see any of her history. Again, I’m not a fan of that writing style.

The author tried to keep some of the original Alice in Wonderland characters in this story but they were weak as weak could be. There was a set of Tweedle twins but they were given to us in the form of Russian Nightmare slayers … so… yeah. I did not buy that for one hot minute. None of the characters were handled well at all, let alone portrayed in a way that did them justice.

I kept wanting to DNF this because it was just all over bad. The cover is very pretty and the blurb was brilliantly written, but the entire execution was not good. This story needed to be reedited several more times because it was lacking in every possible way.
Profile Image for Kristen.
1,854 reviews30 followers
July 4, 2018
Netgalley provided me a DRC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Let it be known that if you write a re-imagining or re-interpretation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I will read it.

BUT. It either has to be completely original (like Christina Henry's Alice--a shocking, violent romp that leaves a lasting impression) or REALLY good (like Marissa Meyer's Heartless--a prequel story about the Red Queen that is PERFECTION).

Which is why this one was so disappointing. It has original going for it, for sure: Alice is trained by Addison Hatta to hunt and kill Nightmares in Wonderland. She's African American. She has Buffy-like responsibilities.

Unfortunately, the originality wasn't enough to overcome the boring, convoluted plot.

There are lots of inconsistencies...and while I suspect some of them might be fixed in the final editing process, there are some things I just did not enjoy. Like...what, exactly, is the point of having the first chapter take place several months after the prologue and then EVERYTHING else happens a year later? At first you think it's going to be about Alice's training but...nope. We get to see NONE of it. Then there's the weird "Alice tries to balance real life and Wonderland" story line that is just so boring--every time Court and Chess were on the page I just wanted them to go away so we could get back to the magical stuff. And the end "battle" was so anticlimactic...even with the twist thrown in in the epilogue. I mean...I literally didn't care.

Finally, one of my favorites things about reading New Alice stories is finding familiar characters who maybe show up in different ways/forms. But other than Alice and the Tweedle twins (who here are a pair of handsome Russian Nightmare slayers), I didn't particularly like how any of the characters were handled. Some of them (like Chess) seem to share a name and nothing else...which is fine, if they're interesting. But they aren't.

Honestly, the only reason this wasn't a DNF for me was because of my love of the original. I kept waiting for a character or scene I would love, but it just didn't come.
Profile Image for Mireille Jacobs.
Author 3 books6 followers
May 18, 2017
I want to thank all the people who pointed out the author's Twitter feed, and posted links to Tweets of hers where she expresses honest frustration with the racism of the YA genre. You've convinced me to read this book, where previously I might not have been that interested in it. Anyone who is the target of organized hate campaigns as she clearly is (what is this, high school??), and who still has the courage to speak truth to power, is brave enough to get my interest. And I'm also going to check this book out because I despise bullying, and seeing a bunch of people who clearly haven't read the book showing up to trash someone's reviews IS BULLYING, and disgusting. Which is hilarious, since so many of you are accusing her of bullying. What am I going to believe, the words of strangers or their deeds?

Anyway, great job folks. You're giving her lots of free publicity with this behavior.
2 reviews
October 25, 2018
It's often difficult to separate an author from their work, so I'll do this review in two parts. First, the author:
McKinney might think she's on a righteous quest to bring diversity to the publishing industry, but her message is riddled with outright racism and hatred. She blatantly rails against "whiteness", white feminists, and attacks successful books that aren't by black authors. She attacked PBS and "white readers" for their Voters Book Choice list, as the readers choose many beloved books not authored by black authors. Books do not have to be written by Black authors to be powerful and beautiful reads. The terms she uses to describe white people are aggressive and hateful. Her bitterness and resentment towards a race other than her own is alarming and damaging. I don't understand why her publishers are allowing this. If it were another author of any other race making such statements about African Americans, that author would abruptly find themselves without a job. Promoting diversity by tearing down another race (and white feminists) is ignorant and revels a person who had allowed their hearts to erode with hatred. It's the exact opposite of inspiration. Spewing this kind of nonsense SHOULD NOT BE TOLERATED.

Second, as for the book itself, I wanted to give it a chance to see if the story was better than the author herself. Despite being heavily promoted, it's not done extremely well for a reason. I don't know if it's because McKinney has alienated so many readers (does she still expects people to buy her book or they're ignorant and racist?) or because it's not that well written. It is her first book, so maybe that's why the writing and plot isn't as well constructed as it should be. I was bored for much of the book and very disconnected from the characters. The world building wasn't very thorough, and too much of the plot was borrowed---um, stolen? from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Overall, a very lack-luster read that failed to compel me, and I was sadly unable to finish the book.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 11 books1,241 followers
September 13, 2018
Oh man, this book was FUNNY. As funny as it was action-packed, and the incorporation of all the familiar Alice in Wonderland elements was genius. I love me a sassy, courageous girl MC!
Profile Image for Olivia-Savannah.
789 reviews493 followers
September 30, 2018
An Alice in Wonderland retelling with a black representation for Alice? I couldn’t resist – I had to have it! Combined with that cover, there was no way I wasn’t going to be able to read this one. I signed up for the tour straight away and don’t regret it at all. I breezed through this book this summer and I’m so happy to finally have read an Alice in Wonderland retelling that I liked. Because this one actually made sense!

Having said that, I have to admit, the prologue did confuse me a little bit. The book jumps right into the action and because we don’t have a clear grip on the world yet, so it left me a little stranded. But don’t pay much mind to the prologue, and soon even that gets explained. After that the story gets ironed out and explained. My main problem with the original classic is that the story jumps around a lot and is entirely too whimsical. However, that is not the case in this one. There is a steady and sure plot with goals the characters need to achieve on their journey. Because it was so straightforward and simple I was able to enjoy reading this one more than the original classic itself.

This one also totally skips the training montage of when the main character is slowly learning their powers and getting used to fighting monsters. I love fantasy, and sometimes it really is helpful to see them learning their magic or powers. But I’ve read a lot of fantasy now, and to be honest, this book didn’t need it. So, if you don’t mind or actually want to skip the training montage (like me!) then this a good book for you.

As for the black main character rep that I was looking forward to, it was okay. Alice does have some elements to her character which show her as an African-American such as dealing with her hair and a few other things. And yes, there is some discussion of unfair police brutality and racist crime as evil tends to breed monsters. But I have to be honest – it doesn’t go into too much discussion of this and at times it seems a bit like the black rep was made to be a selling point for the book and hastily included? It needed more development for it to truly feel diverse. But otherwise, it was a good inclusion! I can’t find anything particularly wrong with the rep, only that I wanted a bit more from it.

The world building was done really well and I loved getting to explore this different Wonderland. It was unique, creative and easy to follow. The nightmares sounded terrifying, but what intrigued me most were the places she went – like the bubbles – and the magic system, like the potions a friend of hers makes. It made this Wonderland so alluring. I know I would like to visit at some point.

The writing was simply okay. It was terrible, but it wasn’t amazing either. This book is definitely a plot driven one because I didn’t particularly care for the characters much. I wasn’t a huge fan of the romance situation and the forced love triangle. It didn’t work for me. But there were some characters that intrigued me, like Maddy and the twins. The secondary characters were ones I wanted to know more about and I loved every scene where they were included!

All in all, this one was a bit of a mixed bag for me. You can definitely tell it’s the beginning of a series, so I’m not sure if I am going to read on. But it was nice to go out of my comfort zone with an Alice in Wonderland retelling and see what I thought of it.

Relevance to today: I think the friendships in this book were the best things. The friends in this one have to trust and rely on each other. They always have each other’s’ back. I really loved seeing such a close bond, and even when the friendships went through difficulties and struggles it is apparent that they all care for each other deep down.

This review can be found on Olivia's Catastrophe: https://oliviascatastrophe.com/2018/0...
Profile Image for ren.
182 reviews39 followers
October 4, 2018
updated review on october 4th 2018: i was really excited for this story, but i couldn't get into it, mostly because of the writing. i liked the characters well enough (especially alice and her mom tbh) and the story is interesting, but i only got /really/ interested on what was going on in the last 15% or so. not enough to make me want to read the next book, to be honest, but i admit i'm intrigued by what might happen in this story.

comment made on may 18th 2018: racists are giving this book one star for no reason, so here are five stars. gonna update it with my real rating when the book is out ✌🏻
Profile Image for Erikka.
1,911 reviews
July 3, 2018
This was just bad. It throws you into a plot with no build up or explanation, the writing is clunky and cringe-inducing, and most of the characters have little to no development. I was so excited to read a take on Alice in Wonderland with a POC has the MC and, while this is ostensibly presented as that, it doesn't really have the qualities you expect from Alice in Wonderland. The setting is barely described, she doesn't spend enough time in Wonderland to make it work, and the majority of her time is spent dealing with her whiny best friend and her mom (who is rightfully concerned that her teen daughter is literally never home). I related more to her mom than to her. I think the worst part, though, was the clunky dialogue. The random swear words that were supposed to make her seem tough, but really just made her sound like a little kid getting away with something. The words that were either not something kids say (she calls someone a goober. No kid does that.) or were painfully "this is something the youths say, correct?" The covered lulled me into a false sense of badassery that didn't come to fruition.
Profile Image for Sarah.
3,343 reviews1,015 followers
September 27, 2018
As a huge Alice in Wonderland fan the second I heard A Blade so Black is a retelling where it was actually Buffy who fell down the rabbit hole I was all in for this book and I'm so happy to say that it lived up to my high expectations.

Alice is a fantastic character, she's smart and hard working and she knows how to kick butt. She may not always make the right choices but she goes with her gut and she'll fight to the death for the people cares about. Ever since she was attacked by a creature straight out of our nightmares she has been training with her mentor Addison Hatta learning how to protect humanity from the creatures of Wonderland. It's not easy juggling school and homework with being a warrior, especially when her overprotective mother wants to know where she is every second of the day, but she does her best to balance all the balls she's juggling.

I think one of the things I loved most about this story was that Alice's mother was in the picture and constantly nagging her about missing curfew or sneaking out at night. So many YA books have absent parents who don't seem to have a clue what their kids are up to so it was nice to see the opposite here. I actually felt really sorry for Alice's mother and if I had a kid like Alice they would drive me insane constantly disappearing on me but at the same time it wasn't easy for Alice to keep such huge secrets from her mother either. I'm hoping in the next book (there's got to be a next one right?!) that she'll let her mum in on what's going on, I think she's going to have to if she wants to explain her latest absence. This story is full of fantastical elements but is also really grounded in the real world which I liked.

A Blade so Black has just enough elements of the original story to excite Alice in Wonderland fans but not so many that it's boring to read, I thought L.L. McKinney hit the balance perfectly there and I really enjoyed the way she made so many nods to the original but took characters we already know and love and still managed to make them her own. Hatta and Maddi were particular favourites (although I wish Maddi had spoken in riddles for the entire story!) but I also loved the Tweedle twins and many others too. There's plenty of action, lots of diverse and wonderful characters and great world building so I'm definitely hoping to see more of these characters in the future. The way it ended there just has to be a sequel & if there is it's definitely going to be at the top of my wish list!


Before reading:
I saw someone on Twitter saying this is an Alice in Wonderland retelling but what would have happened if Buffy fell down the rabbit hole instead of Alice. I love Alice retellings anyway but that description immediately jumped it to the top of my wish list!
Profile Image for Jay G.
1,284 reviews460 followers
August 28, 2018
Want to see more from me? Check out my youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfer...

*I was sent a copy in exchange for my honest review*

Alice, a young African American girl, is trying to balance her regular life with an overbearing mother and a needy best friend while also being trained to hunt and kill Nightmares in Wonderland by a warrior named Addison Hatta.

I was so excited when I originally heard of this book! An Alice in Wonderland retelling with monster hunting?! Sign me up! Unfortunately, it fell very short for me. I didn't like the writing style and felt that it was chunky and didn't flow well. I kept thinking that the plot would begin to make sense and become more interesting as the story went on... but as it progressed, nothing got better. I found the plot boring and I felt as though nothing actually happened. Half the time I honestly didn't even know what was going on in the story line. I liked the attempt at bringing in characters from the original story of Alice, but I didn't find any of the characters to be anything of interest and felt that they didn't develop in anyway. I didn't relate to any of them or care about what happened to them.
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,615 reviews10.7k followers
January 31, 2023
I'm throwing in the towel on this one at the halfway mark. I'm sorry, y'all, this has just completely failed to capture my attention. I have zero attachment.

It makes me sad to do this, as I have had this book and its sequel on my shelves for so long. I just do not care about this story at all. The characters/world/plot aren't sticking with me and I have no clue what's happening.

For those of you who care about these sorts of things, I have altered the 'read' dates on this so it won't count towards my 2022-challenge.

On to the next!!!


Book #10 for my TBR-Haul Project!!!

I hauled this way back in November of 2018. I was so stoked for it at the time and have even purchased a copy of the sequel. That's how confident I am that I am going to love it.

I'm ready to enter the Nightmare-Verse!!!

Profile Image for ivy francis.
546 reviews28 followers
June 2, 2019
Full review: https://bookpeopleteens.wordpress.com...

A fun and fierce debut from one of the nicest authors you’ll ever meet (She was wearing a tiny top hat. What more can I say.) Alice herself is strong, while still living a real life and having relatable fears. Almost every aspect of the original Alice in Wonderland was thrown into the present, from the door mouse to the Jabberwocky. While this wasn’t the most “technical” fantasy novel, I really enjoyed the ridiculous, and arguably darker, take on Wonderland. The characters were the strongest part of the book, forming bonds quickly, their complex relationships adding another fascinatingly tangled web to the plot. Rating: five/five

For fans of: Heartless by Marissa Meyer, Splintered by A. G. Howard, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Favorite Quotes:
- “Maybe it wasn’t the smart thing, but when you lose someone like that? They’re just gone? There’s this hole inside you you’d give anything to fill. You don’t think, you don’t plan, you just pour shit into it, anything that will fill it.”
- “A pain she knew all too well, of wanting to change what’s happened. Of trying to get past it and being unable to.”
- “Muchness… The part of you that believes in yourself, even when the rest of you doesn’t”

Full author interview: https://bookpeopleteens.wordpress.com...

Why Alice in Wonderland?

"I really enjoy that story. Because it’s so weird. It’s the same with every book that you know. Two people read a book, and will walk away and completely different ideas. But with Alice in Wonderland, it takes that and it dials it up to like, 100, because it’s nonsense. And I love that about it. And it also, as a cheat, made writing things easier because people were like, “Okay, so why does this happen?” “Because it’s Wonderland,” and that works." - L.L. McKinney
Profile Image for Hayley.
2 reviews4 followers
May 18, 2017
Racism against white people doesn't exist you absolute cretins.
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