Title: A Blade So Black
(The Nightmare-Verse #1)
Author: L.L. McKinney
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 11 hours, 17 mins
Narrated By: Jeanette Illidge
Publisher: Square Fish
Publish Date: September 25, 2018
Setting: Atlanta, GA & Wonderland
Violence, Death, Kidnapping,
Shooting of a Child
Black, Latinx-coded, Lesbian
Yes, I am totally counting this as an ARC because I was asked to read both this and the sequel to review. And I got a physical copy of this novel for free so I’m totally disclaiming that right now. Thank you so much for wanting my opinion on this novel and I hope to get to the sequel soon!
- This would give me Kingdom Hearts vibes if I ever finished playing any of the games.
- Black Alice though. Why did it take so long to create a Black Alice?
- The cover is totally giving me Buffy vibes, and when are we getting a Black Slayer that isn’t gonna die after two episodes though?
- I literally can’t handle Illidge! She does the perfect voice for Alice and Mrs. Kingston and she’s just freaking the best choice for this audiobook.
- I’m shook.
Black girls are way too hard on themselves… or at least Alice is
One of the things that I couldn’t help but notice when I was reading this was how hard Alice was whenever she made a mistake, or thought that something bad was her fault. It honestly reminded me of myself, and I know that it’s not good for us to be that harsh on ourselves for things that we don’t intentionally mean to mess up. She blamed herself for a lot of things, and she was angry. I understood her, and I felt that way too and I could just see myself in her. But I wish that she was able to see that it wasn’t her fault, that she wasn’t a screw up, and that she was actually pretty damn amazing. She took the anger and hurt that she felt towards her father passing away and channeled it into becoming a Dreamwalker, saving Wonderland and the human world from the Nightmares that fed off of humans pain and fear. She trained hella hard with her mentor Hatta, and improved so much that she really, really, truly became a superhero. Messing up every once in a while is human, and that’s okay. She doesn’t need to be perfect, but I also got that need too. Being a black woman in a world where both of those traits are seen as negatives means that we have to work twice as hard, be twice as capable, and just all around better than we really need to be so that people don’t underestimate us or take us for fools. So I get that. I’ve experienced it. I’ve had the surprised looks when people interviewed me in person and realized that I wasn’t a white girl like they thought I was over the phone. The surprise that oh, maybe this girl actually knows what she’s doing, all prejudgment from my appearance. I get it.
The Power of Friendship… and Understanding
So there were a few relationships in this book that I absolutely adored, even if they had their faults. Let’s be honest, not all friendships are perfect and if they were, I’d be hella suspicious.
- Alice and Hatta: ughhhh there was a scene in the beginning where he’s telling her how proud he is of her growth over the past three months and you can see that even in that short amount of time, they learned to trust and care for one another. It was the cutest thing, and honestly it made me wish I had a Hatta in my life.
Just read that whole part and you’ll see what I mean. That’s just a little sneak peek of it, and it may not be the best part and I didn’t want to include the whole thing, but just seeing that comfort level between them and how they grew to be friends as well as master and apprentice just made me so happy.
- Alice and the Tweedles: Yes we have two Russian twins that are also Dreamwalkers, Dem and Di (nicknames) and they go by the Tweedles. Even though they don’t see each other often, they work so well together and do care about one another. I like that they can set aside any differences that they might have in training or upbringing and just kick some Nightmare ass together.
- Alice and Courtney: oooooooh this best friend relationship got me mad during the middle! I won’t say why because I don’t want to spoil what the “high maintenance friendship” is that was mentioned in the synopsis but man that hurt my soul. But seeing that Courtney showed some major respect for Alice’s mom even when they were both in trouble was actually really special and surprising and refreshing for me to see.
Family is Everything
The very first thing that Alice has to deal with is the sudden death of her father. When she runs away from the hospital in shock, anger, and grief, she comes across her very first Nightmare in the human world, and ends up meeting Hatta as well. And thus the journey begins. One of the factors in this novel is that Mrs. Kingston (Alice’s mom) is always worried about Alice’s whereabouts and on Alice for not keeping her updated on where she is. I mean I know my mom is like this too and I understand it, but I also know that Alice hasn’t felt like she could confide in her mother about her other life, you know?
And that part makes me think about how Buffy hid her Slayer identity from her mother until she just couldn’t anymore, and at first her mother didn’t understand it. She basically told Buffy that if she couldn’t stop being a Slayer then she couldn’t come home, which was why Buffy ended up running away to Los Angeles to live on her own. It was one of the saddest feelings ever because for once she actually was very transparent to her mom and told her the honest to goodness truth about what she was doing whenever she would leave the house at night, and just how dangerous it was for her to be in this role.
So I can totally understand Alice’s fear of not wanting to tell her mom, and I can also understand Mrs. Kingston’s fear whenever Alice is unreachable because even just being a regular black girl doesn’t mean that she’s guaranteed to come home every single night. She already lost her husband, she doesn’t want to lose her daughter to some senseless act that could have been prevented.
I know that there’s going to be much more character development in the second one because hello, sequel and all, but I could honestly say that the person that I felt showed the most development was Courtney. Again, I won’t say why because you just need to experience it for yourself, but let’s just say that by the end, I was proud of her. I also feel like Alice grew up from the first time that we meet her, and while she still needs to do a little better at managing her time wisely – I think she’s more late than the White Rabbit – I can’t wait to see how she harnesses the rage that she’s been holding in at the end. Sometimes rage can be a very powerful thing, and I think it may be used to her advantage in the second one.
I was angry for Alice. I was hurt for what she was going through, and I was upset that she thought everything was her fault. Every single time she would think that something was her fault, I wanted to shake her and tell her that she was wrong. She actually took action to changing the circumstances that she was thrown into more than anyone else that I saw, and how can anyone be upset with her for wanting to make change? She did make a change, and I don’t think anyone was brave enough to do what she did. I loved the friendships between Alice and those she interacted with from Wonderland, and the Tweedles. I loved how protective Mrs. Kingston was to Alice, and how much I could feel the love for her daughter through the pages.
I loved the plot! This actually made me enjoy the Alice in Wonderland story more than what I’ve seen previously. I loved that Alice was more than just a visitor into a strange world, but also one of its protectors. I loved that I could hear Alice’s thoughts as plain as if she were standing right in front of me. The dialogue wasn’t made to fit what society sees as acceptable. I loved the AAVE in here, and I’m so glad that McKinney didn’t shy away from using it. She made Alice and the rest of the characters feel so real to me. Everything was just so enjoyable and I thought it was great.
Hmm… I don’t feel like I have many points right now. Maybe just the discussion on why it’s so hard to tell your parents that you have a responsibility to save the world. Is it because it’s just so fantastical that it’s unbelievable? That it sounds like a teenager is just trying to get our of chores and homework? It’s not like they want to be failing at their other more mundane facets of life, but it’s hard to balance.
I don’t know why I held off on reading this for so long, but I think it was because I didn’t want to NOT give it the attention it deserved. I don’t know, I get that way about a lot of books where I feel like I’m going to absolutely love it. And I freaking loved this book. I fell in love with this book and it’s another of my favorite reads for the year. Please tell me this is going to be a trilogy or something because I can’t just have two books in the Nightmare-Verse. I just can’t.