We’re pleased to present the cover for Christina Henry’s Red Queen, the second novel in her Chronicles of Alice series—taking readers back down the rabbit hole to a dark, twisted, and fascinating world based on the works of Lewis Carroll. Arriving July 2016 from Ace, the novel follows Alice and Hatcher’s continuing quest to find his missing daughter. Check out the full cover image below, and read an excerpt from the first novel in the series, Alice.
From the catalog copy for Red Queen:
The land outside of the Old City was supposed to be green, lush, hopeful. A place where Alice could finally rest, no longer the plaything of the Rabbit, the pawn of Cheshire, or the prey of the Jabberwocky. But the verdant fields are nothing but ash—and hope is nowhere to be found.
Still, Alice and Hatcher are on a mission to find his daughter, a quest they will not forsake even as it takes them deep into the clutches of the mad White Queen and her goblin or into the realm of the twisted and cruel Black King.
The pieces are set and the game has already begun. Each move brings Alice closer to her destiny. But, to win, she will need to harness her newfound abilities and ally herself with someone even more powerful—the mysterious and vengeful Red Queen…
Below, please enjoy an excerpt from Alice, the first novel in Christina Henry’s Chronicles of Alice. From the catalog copy:
In a warren of crumbling buildings and desperate people called the Old City, there stands a hospital with cinderblock walls which echo the screams of the poor souls inside. In the hospital, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place. Just a tea party long ago, and long ears, and blood…
Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape, tumbling out of the hole that imprisoned her, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago.
Only something else has escaped with her. Something dark. Something powerful.
And to find the truth, she will have to track this beast to the very heart of the Old City, where the rabbit waits for his Alice.
* * *
“There’s a ledge out here,” Hatcher said.
He went to the wall next to the window, grabbed his right wrist with his left hand, pushed his hanging right arm against the wall and did some kind of maneuver while Alice watched. When he turned back to her, his right arm appeared normal again. He flexed his fingers as if to ensure they were still functional. Throughout all of this he never made a sound, not even a hint that the process was painful, though Alice was certain it must have been. He held his hand out so she could join him by the window.
She approached him, and gasped in shock when his hand closed around hers. It seemed like an electric current ran from their joined hands up into her heart, which hammered in her chest. His grey eyes sparked, and he squeezed her hand tighter for a moment. When you are in an asylum, no one ever touches you in kindness, and Alice knew the shock was as great for him.
He said nothing as he released her. He climbed through the window and onto the ledge, and Alice followed him, because that was what she was supposed to do.
She swung her left leg over the sill. Her shift rode up, exposing her skin to the morning chill, and she shivered. She supposed it wasn’t so terribly cold out, but after the furnace of the burning hospital, the outdoors seemed frigid.
Alice ducked her head under the sash and saw the ledge Hatcher wanted her to reach. Below it, too far below for comfort, was the river, grey and putrid. Now that she saw it she remembered what she had forgotten before.
Hatcher moved on the ledge behind her, and his hands were at her waist, guiding her out until they stood side by side, their backs pasted against the brick exterior of the hospital. The ledge was barely wide enough to admit the length of Alice’s feet. Hatcher’s toes curled around the edge as if that grip could save him from falling.
His expression was fierce and exultant. “We’re outside, Alice. We’re out.”
“Yes,” she said, and her thrill at this prospect was much tempered by the sight of the river. Now that she was away from the smoke, her mind was clearer, and this plan seemed riskier than trying to climb down a set of burning stairs. The stench of the water reached her then, and she gagged.
Hatcher grabbed her hand to keep her from stumbling forward into the empty air. “We jump into the river,” he said, “and swim across to the opposite bank. We can disappear into the Old City after that. No one will look for us in there. They will think we’re dead.”
“Yes,” she agreed again. “But we’re not supposed to go into the river. It will kill us. All the factories dump their waste there. I remember Father speaking of it. He said it was an outrage.”
“Neither can we stay here,” Hatcher said. “If the fire does not consume us, then they will catch us in their nets and put us back in our cages. I cannot go back, Alice. I cannot spend the remainder of my life as a moth beating its wings against a jar. I would rather perish in the mouth of the Jabberwock than that.”
Alice saw the truth of this, and felt it in her heart as well. She did not want to go back inside the box they had made for her. But the river was so far below, churning with poison. What if their skin was seared from their bodies? What if they swallowed the river water and died writhing on the shore as the foul substance coursed in their blood?
As these thoughts occurred, a burst of flame caused a nearby window to explode outward, startling a huddle of soot-coated pigeons that had taken foolish refuge on the same ledge Alice and Hatcher perched on. The birds took flight, squawking in protest, and Alice looked at Hatcher, knowing he saw the fear in her eyes.
“Now we must fly,” he said. “Trust me.”
She did. She always had, though she didn’t know why. He squeezed her hand, and the next thing Alice knew she was falling, falling away into a rabbit’s hole.
“Don’t let go,” Hatcher shouted just before they hit the water.
His grip on her fingers tightened painfully, and she cried out, but he didn’t let go. Which was a very good thing, because as soon as the horrible muck coated her head, she reflexively loosed her hold, and if Hatcher hadn’t been holding her that way, she would have drowned.
He yanked her, coughing and gagging, to the surface, scooped an arm under her ribs and began paddling toward the shore. “Kick your feet.”
She fluttered her ankles weakly in the water. It felt thick and strange, with none of the fluid slipperiness water was supposed to possess. It moved sluggishly, the current hardly enough to push them a few inches off course. A noxious vapor rose from the surface, making her eyes and nose burn.
Because of the way Hatcher held her, she couldn’t see his face or the opposite shore that they approached. His breath was smooth and even, like he was unaffected by the miasma floating above the surface of the river. He pulled them both along with smooth, sure strokes as Alice floundered in the water, trying not to cause them both to go under.
She saw the asylum burning behind them, as tongues of flame emerged from newly opened windows. The distance and roar of the fire drowned out the sound of the inmates screaming. There were people running around the sides of the building, trying to stop the spread to the adjacent structures. She had never given much thought to the places around the hospital before.
On one side was a long, low building crouched against the bank of the river like a squat turtle. That must have been on the side that Alice’s room had been; else she wouldn’t have been able to see the moon. The edifice on the opposite side was huge, much bigger than the hospital, and the smoke belching from its chimneys seemed as thick and dangerous as that pouring from her former home.
“Put your feet down,” Hatcher said suddenly, and Alice realized he was walking now, not swimming.
Her toes sank into the muck, and the water was still up to her neck, but they were nearly there. A small knot of people was gathered a little ways down the bank on a jetty, pointing and exclaiming over the collapsing asylum.
“I see them,” Hatcher said in a low voice. “Over here.”
He guided her toward a place where the shadows lay thick despite the rising sun, away from the flickering exposure of the gas lamps set at intervals to alleviate the fog from the river and the factories. Alice fell to her hands and knees just out of the water, taking great gasps of air. Even a few feet from the river, the air was noticeably cleaner, though hardly what one would call “clean,” she thought.
Everywhere was the stench of the water, the reek of smoke and flame, the chemical burn of factory exhaust. Underneath it all was the smell of the morning’s cooking coming from the warren of flats just before them.
Hatcher had done much more than Alice to get them out of the burning hospital and through the disgusting river, yet he had not collapsed like she had when they emerged from the water. He stood beside her, still and calm. Alice rolled to her seat and looked up at him. He stared, transfixed, at the fiery structure across the water. He stood so still that she began to worry, and she struggled to her feet.
“Hatcher?” she asked, and touched his arm.
His hair and clothes were steaming now that they were onshore, and he was coated in the filth they had just crossed. His grey eyes glowed in the reflection of the fire, like the coals of hell, and when he turned those eyes on her she felt, for the first time, a little afraid of him. This was not Hatch, her constant companion through the mouse hole. Nor was this the man who had methodically rescued her from a burning building. This was Hatcher, the murderer with the axe, the man who had been found covered in blood and surrounded by bodies.
But he would never hurt you, Alice told herself. He’s still Hatch, somewhere in there. He’s just lost himself for a moment.
She put her hands on his shoulders, tentatively, and said his name again, for he stared at her but did not seem to see. Then his hands were at her wrists, his grip bruising the thin skin, and his iron eyes were wild.
“He’s out, he’s out, he’s out,” he chanted. “Now the world will break and burn and bleed . . . Everyone will bleed.”
“The Jabberwock?” Alice said.
“His mouth will open wide and we will all fall in, fall in and be devoured,” Hatcher said. “We must get away, away before he finds me. He knows I can hear him. He knows that I know what evil he will do.”
Suddenly there was a tremendous noise from the asylum, a sound like the very heart of the building crashing in on itself. Alice and Hatcher turned to watch, and all the walls collapsed like a melting sand castle. There seemed to be nothing but fire now, and the fire shot impossibly upward into the sky, well past the point where there was anything to burn. It filled the horizon, the wings of a monster outstretched.
Behind the flame was a darkness, a gigantic shadow that spread, as if something that was trapped was now free, reaching its arms toward the sun.
“Is that . . . him?” Alice asked. She’d never believed in the Jabberwock, not really. And perhaps there was no shadow at all. She was exhausted, and had spent some time breathing smoke and poison. Her brain might tell her there was a shadow when in fact there was none. That was the trouble with not being right in the head. You couldn’t always tell if your eyes were telling the truth.
Hatcher did not reply to her question. He stared for a moment at the tower of flame, and then grabbed Alice’s right wrist, tugging her up the bank. The mud inhibited fast progress, but they finally managed to clamber onto the narrow cobbled path that ran around and between the warrens of tilting structures stacked crazily against one another.
The Old City seemed to have no beginning and no end, a circling maze of stairways and narrow alleys connecting buildings that had been patched and rebuilt on top of crumbling ruins for centuries. There was nothing gleaming and new there, not even the children, who seemed to be birthed with haunted eyes.
Hatcher ducked into the nearest alley, pulling Alice after him. The rough stones scraped her bare feet, but she understood the need to disappear quickly. Aside from the question of the Jabberwock, Alice had recognized the distinctive brass-buttoned gleam of a copper’s uniform. Never mind if the asylum was naught but a cinder now. If they were caught out in their hospital whites, the police would drag them away. And Alice had a feeling Hatcher would not go quietly.
So they dipped and darted beneath the girls with their customers pressed up against the alley walls, or old men gathered in clusters around a shell game or a cockfight. Hatcher led them deeper into the Old City, to a place where the rising sun was blocked by the closeness of the buildings and the air was blanketed in fog from the factories. Mist rose from the cobblestones, hiding approaching figures until they were nearly upon you.
Which was how the men surrounded them.
Hatcher paused for a moment, seeing Alice out of breath and suffering. He did not pat or comfort her, but waited. In that moment that they were still, an enormous ogre loomed out of the darkness and swung a club at Hatcher. Alice opened her mouth to scream, but a filthy hand covered it and another hand latched on her breast, squeezing it so hard tears sprang to her eyes.
“What have we here?” a rough voice cooed in her ear. “A little lost lamb?”
She kicked out, tried to slip out of his clutch as Hatcher and the ogre—whom she now saw was a man, the largest man she had ever seen—disappeared into the fog. Her struggles were useless against her captor’s strength as he dragged her away.
His free hand moved from her breast to the hem of her shift, pulling it to her waist, his fingers on her thighs, and she went wild then, biting down on the hand that covered her mouth because she remembered—remembered a man over her in the flickering light, pushing between her legs, and it hurt, she screamed because it hurt, but he kept at it until she bled.
The man who held her now swore as he felt her teeth but he did not let go. “Little hellion,” he snarled, and slammed her forehead against the brick wall.
She went limp and dazed then for a moment, and something wet and sticky covered her eyes. Then she was on the ground on her belly, her bare thighs scraping against the stones, and his hands were on her bottom, pulling her legs apart.
Just go away, she thought. You’re not here; you’re in a green field in a valley, and the sun is shining down, and here comes someone smiling at you, someone who loves you.
Then the hands on her were gone and she heard the sound of flesh meeting flesh. She rolled to one side, her shift still up around her waist, and wiped the stickiness from her eyes.
Hatcher was pounding her attacker repeatedly with his fists. He had pushed the man’s back against the wall and was methodically reducing the man’s face to an unrecognizable blob of jelly. After several moments, Hatcher released the man, who fell limp to the ground. He did not appear to be breathing.
Hatcher turned to Alice, his chest heaving. He was covered in blood, his hands and his chest and his face. His eyes went from the cut on her head to her bare waist, and lingered there for a moment. Then he said, “Cover yourself,” and turned away to search the man’s pockets.
Alice pulled the shift down to her knees again and used the wall to help her stand. She leaned there for a moment and her body began to shake all over. When Hatcher turned back, her teeth were chattering. He held a small pouch in one hand.
“Full of gold,” he said, nudging the limp body with his toe. “Probably a slave trader. He would have used you and then sold you.”
“I th-th-think I w-w-was sold before,” she said. She had a memory of money changing hands, of seeing a smaller hand being filled with gold from a larger one.
“By the man with the long ears, or to him?” Hatcher asked.
She shook her head. There had only been that flash of terror, of memory best forgotten. There had been a man, but she couldn’t remember his face. Then her mind reasserted itself, keeping her safe.
He paused in front of her, a savage splattered with the blood of her attacker, and there was something about his face that was oddly vulnerable.
“May I . . . ?” he asked, and he mimed putting his arm around her shoulder.
Everything inside her clenched and cried no. Then the moment passed, and she remembered how he had stared at her bare legs but turned away instead of falling on her like a ravening wolf. She nodded, and saw relief on his face.
His arm went around and pulled her tight to his body for a moment, so she could feel the coiled strength in him. Then he loosened enough so she could walk, but did not let go. They returned to the place where the ogre had attacked. Alice saw the body of the larger man there. He still breathed shallowly through the broken mess where his teeth used to be. Nearby on the ground was the club he had used on Hatcher. It was actually just a thick rod of wood with a slightly oversized end. It was broken in two pieces.
“We must get inside somewhere,” Hatcher said.
“Where can we go that’s safe?” Alice asked. “Does this place seem familiar to you?”
“It does,” he admitted. “Though I don’t know why. From the moment we stepped inside the Old City, my feet have been leading us someplace.”
“Someplace safe?” she asked. The cold was in her bones now, making her tremble all over despite the warmth of Hatcher holding her close. She was hungry and tired and more scared than she could ever remember being. For a brief moment she longed for the certainty of the hospital, the security of four walls around her.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s been many years since I’ve been here. Some places look the same. More the same than you’d think. And others seem much different, though I can’t put my finger on why.”
“I don’t think your memory is as gone as you think it is,” Alice said. “You remember things like the time of Magicians. And that men like that sell girls like me. And you know the City. You’ve only forgotten who you are.”
“No,” Hatcher said. “I know who I am now. I’ve forgotten who I was before. Probably for the best. You might not like who I was then. I might not either.”
Alice remembered who she was before. She just couldn’t recall what had happened to that girl to make her this girl. And given the flashes she’d just seen, that was probably for the best. Hatcher was right. Maybe not remembering was better.
She shook under his arm. He rubbed his shoulder with his hand, fruitlessly trying to impart heat.
“I can’t get warm,” she said.
“We’re nearly there.”
“I don’t know. It’s where my feet are leading us. It’s someplace safe.”
Alice noticed they’d emerged from the maze of alleys into a thoroughfare. It wasn’t packed, but there were plenty of people going about their morning’s business. Women with their heads wrapped in scarves against the chill, carrying baskets of eggs and cabbage and fish wrapped in paper. Men leading donkeys laden with coal or firewood, or making quiet trades on the sly. Boys in ragged caps and bare feet pinching apples from carts when the proprietor wasn’t looking.
Everyone who saw Alice and Hatcher averted their eyes and veered away, but the two of them did not seem to cause sufficient alarm that the police were called, for which Alice was grateful. None of these folk would want the authorities sniffing around, for she was certain that more than fruit and coal were being sold off those carts. Every person made it clear that no help was to be found there, but no hindrance either.
“When we arrive,” Hatcher said, “there will be an old woman, and she will know me, and she will let us in.”
Alice wondered who this old woman was, and why Hatcher was so sure she would help. She wanted to ask, but Hatcher probably would not know the answer, anyway. And her stomach was starting to churn, even though there was nothing in it. If they’d still been in their rooms, the morning porridge would have come hours ago. Alice coughed, and tasted something foul in the back of her throat.
“I feel sick,” she moaned.
“Nearly there,” Hatcher said, steering her around the corner of a storefront selling healing potions and down another alley.
“I won’t make it,” Alice said, and broke away from Hatcher to heave against the wall.
Her stomach wrenched upward, her throat burning, but all that came out were a few thin drools of bile. Alice leaned her aching forehead against the cool brick and winced when the rough surface scraped against the scabbed knot given her by the man who would have raped her. The nausea had not passed. Instead the outburst had only made her feel worse.
“Just a little farther,” Hatcher said, tugging at her hand, her shoulder. “It’s the powder making you sick.”
“I haven’t had my powder today,” Alice said.
“Precisely,” Hatcher said. “How many years have you had a powder with breakfast and supper?”
“Ever since I went to hospital,” she said.
It was a terrible struggle to put one foot in front of the other. She could barely lift her leg from the ground. Her toes curled under and scraped along the stone, the skin there peeling away and leaving it raw.
Hatcher badgered and dragged her the last few feet. When finally they reached the plain wooden door tucked in a notch halfway down the alley, Alice was on the verge of collapse.
Hatcher pounded on the door with his fist, his other arm keeping Alice from folding up in a heap on the ground. The door opened and a very small woman, knotted and ancient, appeared in the opening. She wore a blue dress covered by a faded red shawl. Her hair was white, and her eyes were as grey as Hatcher’s. She took one long look at him, and Alice thought she heard a little sigh.
Then the woman said, “Nicholas. I’ve been waiting for you for three days.”
Excerpted from Alice © Christina Henry, 2015