Ensnared (Splintered #3)
By: A.G. Howard
Release Date: January 6th 2015
*Beware: Spoilers ahead!*
After surviving a disastrous battle at prom, Alyssa has embraced her madness and gained perspective. She’s determined to rescue her two worlds and the people and netherlings she loves. Even if it means challenging Queen Red to a final battle of wills and wiles … and even if the only way to Wonderland, now that the rabbit hole is closed, is through the looking-glass world–a parallel dimension filled with mutated and violent netherling outcasts. In the final installment of the wildly popular Splintered trilogy, Alyssa and her dad journey into the heart of magic and mayhem in search of her mom and to set right all that’s gone wrong. Together with Jeb and Morpheus, they must salvage Wonderland from the decay and destruction that has ensnared it. But if they succeed and come out alive, can everyone truly have their happily ever after?
All of Alyssa Gardner’s worst nightmares have come true: she’s spent the last month in the same insane asylum from which her mother was recently released, said mother has been dragged into a dying Wonderland and is being held in the vengeful clutches of Sister Two, and her (ex-) boyfriend and childhood mentor are lost in AnyElsewhere-a prison for Wonderland’s banished netherlings. With the help of her father’s restored memories, he and Alyssa make their way into AnyElsewhere, wary of the dangerous magic destroying the land and the dozens of mutated netherlings eager to escape at any cost. It’s here that Jeb and Morpheus have survived since their abduction, and while both boys are safe, they’ve changed in ways that Alyssa never expected. Despite her split heart, Alyssa must find a way to defeat Queen Red and undo the damage her spell has done to Wonderland, even if it means sacrificing herself to save her kingdom.
The Splintered trilogy is my favorite addition to the Wonderland world. Howard’s twisted yet fascinating re-envisioning of Wonderland is truly intriguing- the characters and stories we thought we knew take on new levels of complexity and morbidity. From Rabid White to Queen Grenadine to the Sisters, the denizens of Wonderland add to the madness that is Howard’s Wonderland in such a way that there was not a single character I felt was not necessary to the story. As the last book in the trilogy, Ensnared raises the stakes to make way for the final showdown- the ultimate battle between Alyssa and Queen Red. I loved that even though we know where the story would end, the path to get there was dark and full of surprising twists. As chaotic and gothic as Wonderland is, AnyElsewhere kicks things up a notch: butterflies whose sting can turn a person to stone, a caucus race where the loser’s heart joins Queen Hart’s collection, and violent, living paintings. It’s an entirely new level of crazy, and I loved it.
I was so glad that Alyssa’s father, whose real name is David Skeffington, played such an important role in this book. He’s had a hard time of it- raising Alyssa by himself, spending time with a crazy wife whom he desperately loves, not remembering any of his young life- but the restoration of his memories reunites him with his family and with mad fighting skills. It was great to see him finally get a chance to protect Alyssa from AnyElsewhere’s netherlings. I felt like Alyssa and Alison kept Thomas from reaching his potential by always keeping him in the dark about Wonderland. Yes, I understand they did it to protect him, but now we know that he was always able to take care of himself. I also liked that the Skeffington family’s role as the gatekeepers to AnyElswehere tied Alyssa to Wonderland through both bloodlines, making the decisions she made in order to save Wonderland even more powerful.
Of all the characters, I feel that Jeb changed the most in this last book, mostly through his sudden acquisition of magic. Magic Jeb was both powerful and actually pretty scary. Alyssa’s first encounter with Jeb’s doppelganger made me jump, and Jeb’s new vision of himself as an all-powerful creator (“I am…I am a god.) was startling. It was so un-Jeb-like, and I was taken aback with Alyssa. This was not the Jeb she had fallen in love with. I understood his reasoning for keeping Alyssa at a distance (Curse you, Morpheus!) but it was still hard to see him treat her in such a way. But when Jeb does a 180, he does it in a big way. First, it appears that he lost his eyes and tongue trying to save Morpheus from literally losing his heart, and then he trades away his muse to Sister Two to prevent her from stealing any more children into Wonderland as long as he’s alive. That’s the Jeb that Alyssa and the readers have come to love- selfless and giving and always, always, always in love with Alyssa.
Morpheus, on the other hand, is still a manipulative git who gets his kicks harassing Jeb and wrecking his relationship with Alyssa. But without control of his magic, I felt like we got to see a better side of Morpheus. Not only did he sew Alyssa some racy lingerie and a fabulous battle armor dress, but he goes out of his way to save Jeb. Granted, most of his saving is done though lies and deception, but Morpheus is a man (man-moth?) who sticks with what works. And it does in that he finally gets Alyssa to admit her feelings for him, which is really all he’s ever wanted, and he gets more than his fair share of personal moments with Alyssa that are both funny and intimate. I don’t know if it’s my inherent love for snark or reading the lines with a British accent, but Morpheus always has the best lines, which makes me love him that much more.
It was no surprise that Alyssa has the hardest role in all of this. On top of her queenly duties, her heart is literally being torn in two as she struggles between her feelings for Jeb and those for Morpheus. For once, I had a hard time deciding which boy I felt was the best fit for Alyssa, but it’s an impossible choice. Both boys are the best fit for Alyssa- Jeb for her human side, Morpheus for the netherling queen-but better is that she is the perfect fit for both of them. Alyssa is Jeb’s best friend and muse. She’s the one who pushes him to be a better person and to choose good in spite of the suffering he endured at his father’s hands. For Morpheus, Alyssa is the only person with whom he can bicker and fight in a way that makes them fall deeper in love. She was and has always been the queen of his heart. Romance aside, Alyssa’s acceptance of her madness has finally allowed her to tap her full potential. Her abilities and imagination make her a fighter worthy of any opponent. In the end, however, it’s the combination of her netherling powers and her human memories that allow her to defeat Queen Red and save those she loves. I loved this decision in the showdown scene. It shows that we are at our most powerful when we accept ourselves for who we truly are-all the bits and pieces and sides and heritages that come together to make us who we are meant to be.
I know there are people who were unhappy with how the book ended. I am not one of those people. We knew from Ivory’s vision that Alyssa and Morpheus would end up together someday, but Alyssa loved Jeb just as fiercely as she did Morpheus, perhaps more so, since she truly knew Jeb and was just beginning to better understand Morpheus. Because of this, I was glad that Alyssa got her happily ever after with each boy. Part of me wants to wish that the epilogue had given us a little more of a look at the life Alyssa and Jeb had together, but upon rereading, I realized that it was perfect. All the little things are less important than the fact that the two did indeed have their happily ever after. And then Alyssa got to have her happily ever after with Morpheus. Literally ever after, since they’re immortal, although I feel like the ‘happily’ part may have been debatable at times. It was the perfect solution to a messy love triangle, and I couldn’t be happier.
Overall, Ensnared is a dazzling conclusion to an incredible trilogy. I would love for some spin-off stories about the characters as they grow- Alyssa and Jeb’s wedding, Alyssa and Morpheus’ first real magical fight as a married couple, Morpheus and Jeb’s uneasy relationship as they share Alyssa’s waking and sleeping hours. I also think that the ending of the book was open enough that Howard could write another series about one of Alyssa’s descendants finding their way to Wonderland, or maybe a few books about Alyssa and Morpheus’ son growing up in Wonderland. There are endless possibilities, and I would love to read any and all. A.G. Howard has solidified her spot on my “Instant Buy” list, and I will be forever grateful for this twisted, morbid, eye-opening visit to one of my favorite fictional universes.
• When I find Queen Red, she’ll beg me to stop at her head.
• You should’ve seen the atrocities he tried to put me in those first few days. He didn’t let me have any say until I walked around naked for a few hours. Should you decide to employ that strategy, I’ll be behind you one hundred percent. Or in front of you. Lady’s choice.
• If I weren’t already head over heels for you, that stunt would’ve pulled the rug out from under me and left me flailing flat on my back.
• The lack of magic is what leads humans to fantasize in the first place. And Alyssa, what a wonderfully powerful place an imagination can be.