It has been ages since I have been emotionally invested in a book series. Last year, I reviewed L.L. McKinney’s A Blade So Black and was utterly delighted. When the sequel, A Dream So Dark, was announced, I couldn’t wait to return to the Nightmare Verse series. Alice Kingston is a compelling and relatable heroine, and I wanted to see where her adventures would lead her next.

After the tumultuous climax to A Blade So Black, Alice Kingston must journey into a corrupted Wonderland to rescue her friend Maddie, a powerful Poet who has been kidnapped by dark forces. Alice is also dealing with the grim betrayal of her best friend, Chess, and the ongoing peril of the Black Knight. With these dangers come inner turmoil that threatens to tear Alice apart.

One of the most engrossing things about this book is Alice’s internal struggle with her fears. I have never liked so-called “strong female characters” who are allowed to be physically strong but not emotionally vulnerable, and this especially applies when those characters are Black girls and women. Black women are often expected to care for everyone but themselves, so to see Alice cry, be comforted, and learn to face her fears is wonderful.

Speaking of people who care for Alice, I really liked how Alice’s mother was written in this book. In the first book, the mother-daughter relationship was on thin ice because of Alice’s constantly breaking curfew due to her secret superhero lifestyle. In this book, it becomes even harder for Alice to keep her Dreamwalker duties a secret. In spite of all the lying, worry, and frustration, Alice’s mother still tries to understand her daughter as much as she can. Without giving away too much, I can say that it was really heartwarming to see the two grow closer in this book.

Another character that I liked to see caring for Alice is Alice’s grandmother, Nana Kingston. She was casually mentioned in the first book, so it was a pleasant surprise to see more of her in this one. Nana Kingston displays signs of Alzheimer’s disease but belies strength and cheekiness that radiates warmth and love to Alice. I especially liked the gift she gives Alice before she and her mom leave the nursing home.

I have never liked so-called “strong female characters” who are allowed to be physically strong but not emotionally vulnerable, and this especially applies when those characters are Black girls and women. Black women are often expected to care for everyone but themselves, so to see Alice cry, be comforted, and learn to face her fears is wonderful.

Of course, Nana Kingston and Alice’s mother are only two of the characters that made a good impression. Old characters like the Black Knight and Addison Hatta received some surprising character development that also added to the world-building of Wonderland. In particular, the Black Knight’s character development was interesting because it made him more than a one-dimensional villain lackey, though I wasn’t too keen about seeing certain chapters switch to his point of view.

Meanwhile, this book also introduces some newer characters. There are Romi and Haruka, Japanese Dreamwalkers and protectors of the Eastern gateway of Wonderland. Both are strong warriors, but Haruka is the most intriguing, as she serves as both a new friend and a new crush for Alice. Seeing those two bond over past battles and Sailor Moon was a lot of fun. It was also nice to see Alice’s bisexuality be so casually featured and confirmed, since I had my suspicions about Alice’s orientation in the first book.

One other newer character that was enjoyable was the Big Bad of the book. I liked how cunning they were in terms of their plan to manipulate Alice, Addison, an evil version of Chess, and the Black Knight. I also liked how genuinely scary their power over the Nightmares were. They embody the darkness of Wonderland to its fullest, and the reveal of their identity is well done.

It was also nice to see Alice’s bisexuality be so casually featured and confirmed, since I had my suspicions about Alice’s orientation in the first book.

There wasn’t much I disliked about the book. One improvement over the last book is seeing Chess and Courtney play bigger roles in Alice’s adventure, for better and for worse. I ended up liking them more than I did in the first book, and I’m interested in seeing how the events in this book will affect them in the next. In fact, this book made me extremely impressed with how the author has managed to handle such a huge cast of characters in the series.

All in all, this book is a darker, entertaining return to Wonderland that hardly disappoints. Alice fights darkness from within and without to emerge as a better hero and plant the first seeds of Wonderland’s return to its former glory. A Dream So Dark is a thrilling continuation of the Nightmare Verse series, and I eagerly await what will come next.

Top photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels