McKinney’s sequel to A Blade So Black (2018) delves into the corruption of Wonderland’s peaceful existence.
After an epic battle against the Black Knight and his Fiends, Dreamwalker Alice Kingston works to reckon with the death of her best friend, Chess, who was stabbed during the melee. When Chess is reanimated by Slithe, literally the stuff (blood) of Nightmares, and kidnaps the Poet Maddi, Alice must deal with her mother’s declining trust in her as well as attacks from a mysterious bloody lady in order to find her friends. She journeys from our world to Wonderland and literally somewhere In-Between, which is “not here nor there, nor anywhere…it’s pretty much everywhere,” eventually being forced to face the deepest fears held in her heart. Wonderland takes shape through its ethnically diverse peoples, such as Xhosa-speaking healer Naette, and fantastical, Carrollian creatures, like Duma the Bandersnatch, a doglike animal with hooved feet, multicolored fur, and a purple tongue, and is much more interesting than the underdeveloped settings in our world. Readers meet characters whose personal relationships contribute to a complex intrigue that nicely complements the interspersed fight scenes, creating great balance and pacing. The addition of queer-coded Dreamwalker Haruka, a young Japanese woman, and a broader portrait of the Black Knight’s history effectively complicate the plot without making it clunky.
Rousing, nonstop twists help make this sophomore entry a success. (Fantasy. 14-18)