REVIEW: A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

Alice is the kind of character that Black SFF readers have been begging for.  One that lives in our realities, but whose narrative isn’t solely focused on our pain. The Black experience is a myriad, beautiful thing and we have joy in our existences despite whatever publishing might tell you.

A Blade So Black
Title: A Blade So Black
Published: 9/25/18
Page Count: 384
ISBN13: 9781250153906
For fans of Marissa Meyer, L.L. McKinney's A Blade So Black delivers an irresistible urban fantasy retelling of Alice in Wonderland... but it's not the Wonderland you remember.

Alice in Wonderland and Buffy the Vampire Slayer roll together into this supernatural adventure that would appeal to fans of both.  The way McKinney describes this fantastic, twisted version of Wonderland has all the insanity of the original combined with a sort of eldritch horror. You very quickly learn that this iteration of Wonderland is more dangerous than nonsensical and comes with things to be terrified by.

The character of Addison Hatta is rich and deserving of a prequel telling his adventures. There are other young, special people out there like Alice and it only shows that McKinney is building a mythos and not just a one-off tale.  There is truly potential here for so much more story.

What truly holds up the story though is Alice’s relationships with those outside of her life as a Dreamwalker. How she engages with her mother is such a deep breath of fresh, relatable air. The disciplinary practices of a single, black mother (by way of death and not stereotype done for the sake of added drama to which I say hallelujah!) come through full force. You get to see a Black mother’s worry, affection and terror for their child. The last bit is something all too familiar to most Black folks as we have seen it reflected in our own Mothers and for those of us who might be parents.  The world tells us that our children aren’t safe constantly and McKinney leans into that.

Having that fear operate in the background only enhances the drama of Alice’s quest because just how much more dangerous is it to exist as a Black teenager if you’re walking around with weapons?  If you’re having to break into places to stop evil from happening? If you’re by yourself in neighborhoods where being alone is reason enough to be gunned down?

This is why Alice is no rip-off or cheap clone.  Her experiences are invigorated by the fact she’s a young Black woman doing her thang. In fact, it makes all the sense in the world to recruit Black teens for these sort of adventures because the fantastic they might face would be bearable compared to the horrors of existing in a world that actively hates them.

Comic books, SFF and good cooking are the essential elements of Brent Lambert. A full-fledged military brat, he is consistently struck by wanderlust and has a keen sense of things never really being permanent. A writer with an insurmountable TBR list, he strives to make Black gay characters exist in all worlds and all times.
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