Series: Splintered #2
Published by Abrams on 07-01-2014
Alyssa Gardner has been down the rabbit hole and faced the bandersnatch. She saved the life of Jeb, the guy she loves, and escaped the machinations of the disturbingly seductive Morpheus and the vindictive Queen Red. Now all she has to do is graduate high school and make it through prom so she can attend the prestigious art school in London she's always dreamed of.
That would be easier without her mother, freshly released from an asylum, acting overly protective and suspicious. And it would be much simpler if the mysterious Morpheus didn’t show up for school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest in the dark, challenging Wonderland—where she (partly) belongs.
As prom and graduation creep closer, Alyssa juggles Morpheus’s unsettling presence in her real world with trying to tell Jeb the truth about a past he’s forgotten. Glimpses of Wonderland start to bleed through her art and into her world in very disturbing ways, and Morpheus warns that Queen Red won’t be far behind.
If Alyssa stays in the human realm, she could endanger Jeb, her parents, and everyone she loves. But if she steps through the rabbit hole again, she'll face a deadly battle that could cost more than just her head.
You may remember that I really liked Splintered, but that my issues with the love triangle meant it got a 4/5. In Splintered, I didn’t particularly love either Jeb or Morpheus, but the love triangle wasn’t too big of a block for me because of the fantastic world-building going on as well. Unfortunately, the love triangle felt like a huge part of this story and by the end of Unhinged I had a definite preference for one side of the triangle.
The imagery in Unhinged is beautifully done, just as it was in Splintered. A.G. Howard has a knack for making scenes come alive, for evocative, powerful writing that never feels forced or flowery. Although we don’t get to see much of Wonderland, we do see Wonderland slowly invading our world, which was new and exciting. It’s really interesting to see some of the strange features of Wonderland surrounded by normal everyday things, rather than surrounded by the bizarre landscape of Wonderland, and somehow that only emphasises their strangeness. Yet again, I loved A.G. Howard’s writing and I can say nothing but good things in that regard!
The plot was great. It took me a little time to get into Unhinged, and I didn’t race through it the way I did with Splintered, not because I wasn’t enjoying it so much as because I was savouring it, trying to piece things together before they happened. The plot is absolutely filled with twists, turns and revelations. Although a YA book, A.G. Howard doesn’t feel the need to spell things out for you, and though you might see a twist or two coming, the book will still keep you guessing about something else, which I absolutely loved.
I really liked Alyssa throughout Unhinged. Although I didn’t love her wavering between the love interests (or some of her decisions regarding them), I did love the way she grew throughout the story. Alyssa was determined to put Wonderland behind her and concentrate on her real life, but eventually she’s forced to face her responsibility. She explores her netherling side, treads dangerously close to overstepping a few lines and tries to come to terms with the fact that she’s not 100% human. She goes from sticking her head in the sand to fighting for her life, and she discovers some uncomfortable truths about Wonderland, about herself, and about her mother.
My real issue with Unhinged was Morpheus. He is a huge part of this book, and of the love triangle, and I just didn’t like him overly much. He felt too extreme – sort of like if you crossed (a small part) Spike from Buffy with (a large part) Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter. He had lots of characteristics I’d normally like in a bad-boy ish character (see Spike, above): the cockney accent, the coats, the ego…but when you add in all his netherling traits as well, and make him change from good to bad every hour, it was too much for me. It felt like a lot of this book was taken up by Morpheus does bad thing, Alyssa hates herself for trusting him, Morpheus turns out to have done good thing (or bad thing for good reason), Alyssa hates herself for doubting him. Repeat.
I understand the need to have a character who’s not black and white, and even to have a character whose allegiance you’re not quite sure of (Snape, anyone?), but in Unhinged, it felt overdone to me. By the end of the book, I’d sort of expect Alyssa to either a) have decided once and for all whether Morpheus can be trusted or not or b) have ditched him because his constant changes are exhausting.
Jeb, the other side to the love triangle, really grew on me throughout the book. He’s got some faults, and he’s occasionally overly concerned with his career but his motivations are good. He’s desperate to do well, yes for his own sake, but also so that he and Alyssa can afford somewhere to live in England next year, and to impress her dad so that he’ll see Jeb as responsible and allow Alyssa to go. He’s swept up in the sudden buzz and increased interest in his artwork, and although it does make him act poorly at the beginning, I do feel like that’s an issue that could be easily resolved. He’s determined to do well for Alyssa, to make her happy and he just wants to go off and study together in England. He has no memories of their previous trip to Wonderland, and it’s very sad to see his (justified) suspicion of Morpheus, even though he has no idea who he is. Jeb is sometimes a jerk, but he’s also sometimes sweet, and romantic. He goes through some real ups and downs throughout Unhinged, but he remains protective and loyal, and for me, that makes him a winner over Morpheus.
I know I’m in the minority for not being a Morpheus fan, and I think I could have overlooked his downsides if he’d been cast in the role of a friend, but for Alyssa to be torn between him and Jeb in a romantic sense was frustrating. I personally couldn’t see how she could be so attached to him romantically when she couldn’t trust him, and when she had a great guy she could trust. It didn’t even feel like the usual choice between a safe guy with no chemistry and the bad boy she’s so attracted to, because it’s perfectly clear Alyssa and Jeb do have chemistry!
I thought long and hard about whether to give Unhinged a three or four. Despite my (quite serious) issues with Morpheus and the love triangle, I really enjoyed the plot, I found Unhinged immensely readable and I liked both Alyssa and Jeb, so for me, it’s just about a four. Having said that, it’s less of a four than Splintered, if that makes sense at all!
Buy it? Worth buying for me, because although this book wasn’t quite as good as the first, I’m loving the series as a whole and I know I’ll re-read them.
In a nutshell: Beautifully written, with a fantastic twisted plot, but I personally wish the love triangle had played a smaller role.