22 Mar 2019

ARC #Review: A BLADE SO BLACK by L.L. McKinney


Author: L.L. McKinney
Series: A Blade So Black #1
Source: ARC via Publisher
Publisher: Imprint
Publication Date: September 25, 2018
Overall Rating:
Diversity Rating:

The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she's trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.

Life in real-world Atlanta isn't always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice's handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she'll need to use everything she's learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.
Amazon | Chapters | TBD
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book and chose to review it. This in no way impacts my opinion.

So I am really torn on this one. It had so much potential to be a great novel but all of those things fell short. There was no clarity in the direction of the story, it wasn't close to a "retelling" of Alice in Wonderland, I barely saw the connection to Buffy, and the timeline was wonky at BEST. But the character development was ready to rock and roll, I loved that Alice was a strong, black female character, and I really liked a lot of the discussion around race and racism.

Even some those positives fell short though. The character development happened late and some of what I know about Alice and the characters is because I follow McKinney on social media accounts. Alice was bratty and self-absorbed, which I understand to some extent, but when her mother is worried because a young black woman is killed near their home and she still refuses to tell her where she is going and what she is doing, then I have an issue. 

Circling back to that, I wanted there to be more about the killing of the unarmed black woman. I think a bit more focus on this aspect and how it translated to Wonderland would have increased not only the worldbuilding overall, but strengthened the urban fantasy/Buffy connections. However, don't pay attention to those reviews (mostly by white people) that say there is "reverse racism" or "rude remarks about white people" in here. If you are offended because the characters make fun of pumpkin spice, you need to get the fuck out, Karen.

But the real downfall? The timeline. If only, if only, the timeline in this had been clear, it would have made the story 100 times better. I couldn't keep track of the timing, how long things were taking, where we were in the story, etc. It just felt so choppy and not put together in terms of where the reader was supposed to be headed. All the other reviews that eloquently explain the choppiness and rushed timelines are correct. I think McKinney will grow, especially in A DREAM SO DARK (the sequel, in case you didn't know), but for now this was a meh book.

If you are looking for a solid urban fantasy that reimagines Alice in Wonderland and Buffy, this isn't the book for you. If you want to see how someone's potential could grow and want to see a young black female be the hero, this is the book for you.

Also, I see a lot of tweets on McKinney's timeline about how Alice is bi, but I definitely did not get that vibe from reading this, so I hope in book two we get to see some of that on screen.


  1. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy this one more! I think if it's on my TBR, I'm going to take it off. Great review!

  2. I knew this was a retelling of Alice, but had no idea there were Buffy ties too! Thanks for a great review!


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