Saturday, 12 March 2016

'Untamed' (Splintered #3.5) by A. G. Howard

*This review will contain spoilers!*

When I finished the Splintered trilogy, I was quite disappointed. It just didn't go how I wanted it to go, and the ending felt really rushed... It just wasn't what I'd expected, after how much I'd enjoyed the first two installments in the series.
However, when I heard that A. G. Howard was releasing 'Untamed' - a collection of three short stories based around the world and the characters - there was no way that I was missing up the opportunity to dive back into Wonderland once again.

'The Boy In The Web' (4/5)
I loved this inclusion. 'The Boy In The Web' is told from the perspective of Alison, Alyssa's mother, and focuses on her childhood and the events that led up to her rescuing Thomas, Alyssa's father, from Wonderland. Seeing parents being happy and affectionate is always rare in YA, because it's normally shown as some sort of taboo ("Ew! How dare my parents kiss in front of me! Groooooss!") but to see them interacting naturally and comfortably with each other was adorable, especially after seeing everything that they went through over the course of the series.
I thought the insight into Alison's childhood was wonderful, if harrowing, and her interactions with Morpheus definitely made me chuckle - whereas Alyssa is enamoured with him and lets him get the best of her quite regularly, Alison doesn't take any shit from him and that's really relieving. It makes Morpheus a much better character, too, because you get to see more of his attitude and his personality shines through.
When it went over to telling Thomas's memories, it was a bit over-dramatic, but it was nice to get a bit more of his backstory and how he came to be trapped in Wonderland.

'The Moth In The Mirror' (3/5)
On the one hand, I liked 'The Moth In The Mirror' because it let us spend some quality time inside Morpheus's head, but he spent the short story diving into Jeb's memories of his time in Wonderland in an attempt to work out and therefore exploit his weaknesses. I really do hate Jeb - my hatred of him grows more every moment - so needing to read three chapters from his perspective really grated on my nerves. It was nice to get his solo adventures in Wonderland filled in, because it makes for a much more rounded picture of the events of 'Splintered', but I thought his treatment of the netherlings and his constantly grumpy attitude were draining.
I was also a tiny bit disappointed that we were focusing on the memory train again: I'd been hoping the three short stories were all going to be vastly different, but this one just felt a bit regurgitated. It also was released on Kindle before this collection was announced, so that's something to be aware of if you're expecting this to be completely new material.

'Six Impossible Things' (2/5)
The longest of the short stories, 'Six Impossible Things' was the length of the other two combined. Focusing on Alyssa's life after the events of 'Ensnared', but before that epilogue, the six impossible things in question are six memories: three from Alyssa's mortal life with Jeb, and three from her adventures in Wonderland with Morpheus.
On the one hand, I enjoyed 'Six Impossible Things' because it made the ending of 'Ensnared' much more satisfying. We join Alyssa and Jeb on their wedding day, and we get to meet their three children - David, Victoriana and Jackson - which develops their life together and makes it seem more genuine. We also learn that Jenara, Jeb's sister, and her boyfriend ended up having a long and happy life together resulting in two children.
I also liked the first Wonderland memory that Alyssa recalls: one of her childhood adventures with Morpheus. I always thought that her childhood with Morpheus could have been expanded upon and made much more detailed, so this was a wish come true.
However, the rest of the story really didn't sit well with me. First of all, there's the fact that Jeb earns a wish in Wonderland and uses it to die when he finds out he has cancer. I can understand his reasoning - the longer he lives, the harder it becomes for their family - but it just seems to unbelievably selfish: he could wish for happiness for his children, or health for his great-grandchildren, but he chooses something self-serving instead. I never really liked Jeb as a character, and this just confirmed my suspicions.
I also thought the fact that Alyssa and Jeb waited until after their wedding to have sex just wasn't very authentic. Throughout 'Unhinged' they got very close to taking their relationship to the next level, and it just doesn't seem feasible that they'd then decide to wait four years. The fact that Alyssa marries Morpheus before sleeping with him in Wonderland, too: not many people until after marriage to have sex, so for someone to wait twice just seemed a little bit too fantastical.
Similarly, Alyssa goes to Wonderland and the next thing - nine months later - is giving birth to her and Morpheus's child. I don't know what fertility is like in Wonderland, but most people have to try for a while to have a baby, so this just made me raise my eyebrows. We also find out that Queen Ivory is pregnant with the child of her mortal companion, Finley, who died a couple of weeks before - the fact that they'd been together for over sixty years and just happened to get pregnant right at the end? That's not too feasible.
I'm not very good with books that feature true, everlasting love at a young age, so having Alyssa and Jeb AND Jenara and Corbin last until death... It's just not authentic. Divorce is prevalent in these modern times, and while some teenage relationships do last for life it's not that common - I was unconvinced.
And don't even get me started on the implications of Alyssa and Morpheus calling their child Muse... Ugh.
I think 'Six Impossible Things' would have worked better as the first story in this collection, because 'The Boy In The Web' references the fact that Jenara and Corbin know about Wonderland, but this story deals with them finding out the truth. Chronologically, it makes sense to come at the end - it does deal with the end of Alyssa's human life, after all - but to link in properly with the other stories I just feel like putting this one at the end was a mistake.

If you liked the Splintered series, you should probably read these short stories - especially if you weren't happy with the ending of 'Ensnared', because this gives a bit of closure. If you like your romance old-fashioned and cliched, you'll also love this collection. I'm glad I read it, but I'm not going to return to Wonderland any time soon. 

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