The Collectors’ Society by Heather Lyons
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I enjoyed this book. Alice is a grown, competent woman living in a Victorian England asylum after her most recent return from Wonderland when she's approached by the Collectors' Society and asked to help save Wonderland, and other living story worlds, from deletion. In modern day New York, she teams up with adult versions of other classic children's book characters, and they edit themselves into story "timelines" to collect objects called Catalysts, which are essentially a fundamental object that could be thought of the "heart" of a story, and which must be taken and protected to prevent villains from destroying them. Once a Catalyst is destroyed, the entire timeline is deleted with it, and someone is hunting for Wonderland's Catalyst.
Overall, I liked this story. The premise was fun and clever, Wonderland was an extremely cool setting, (Huckleberry) Finn was a perfect book boyfriend, there were some great one-liners in dialogue and the central romance was hot. However, the first half of the book is very slow with meetings, dialogue, cleaning bedrooms etc, and Wonderland isn't visited until nearly the end. Alice didn't particularly pull me in as a heroine - her qualities as a curious, creative, abstract thinker were not apparent until she returned to Wonderland, when suddenly she was back to talking to spiders and believing in impossible things (she'd read as a perfectly flat Victorian girl up until this point). Her lust for her partner was hot at times and led to some steamy scenes, but I was plagued with loud thoughts of "THESE ARE CHILDREN'S BOOK CHARACTERS! YOU CAN'T MAKE THEM DO THESE THINGS OUTSIDE OF FANFICTION!!" All characters were completely removed from their original versions and out-of-character, nothing at all like they were originally portrayed, which while explained in the story, wouldn't have flown in a fanfiction community so I'm surprised it's been so well received by the reading world.
The pacing and overall structure of the story was also strange. It felt like a couple of stories stitched together. After the slow beginning, a series of cutesy bonding opportunities arises, and when they finally reach Wonderland, a significant previous relationship is revealed that feels like it comes completely out of nowhere (how does this NEVER come up?!) and somewhat undermines the validity of the central romance. I became uncertain in the strength of their love and all later insistences that they're meant for each other/destiny/whatever felt flimsy, which was unfortunate.
I would also be remiss if I did not comment on the poor editing. Under five errors, I would think, is forgivable, but I stopped counting after ten, and it was all silly little things that should have been picked up on a final proofread. It was distracting and pulled down the overall quality.
I did like the premise and though there were issues with the book, I would be willing to read more in the series now that the foundations are laid down.
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