Bookshelf: The Alyscrai

51vwoT5hCjL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Steampunk luxuriates in the self-bestowed freedom to mix any influence, aesthetic, period, pseudo-scientific or fantastic element, and literary or historical character it wishes into its brew and distill therefrom a tale.  The Alyscrai pushes the envelope in its wide-ranging and good-hearted pilfering, and the results are fantastic.

For starters, it transforms Alice in Wonderland.  There was an Alice in this telling, and she did indeed find the magical Underland, but she found it in California, and the best parts of her tale had to remain untold.  Returning to ordinary earth, she became an evangelist for a faith part of whose mythos is rooted in Underland.  When she became too old to be the teller of her own tale, she was replaced by our protagonist, Alysseren.

‘Seren’ is Welsh for ‘star’ and young Alysseren becomes Alice as Performer, trained to recount the publicly-knowable portions of Alice’s adventures as her own, as a proselytizing tool for the faith.  Underland in this telling has strong Welsh elements — the Swatidwri (not really rabbits, but sapient and telepathic lemur-like creatures with rabbitoid ears; called tochtin by the church that bestows one as a living conscience on each newly admitted congregant) rejoice in Welshified names like Ymladdfa-gwaladr and Fflwdw-llynwyn.

Alysseren’s church is a potent concoction containing elements of high church liturgy, Levitical theology, Quetzalcoatl imagery, and Canaanite worship, headed by the Queen of Heaven and a priest called Tlaloc.

Alysseren’s adventures start with a bang when she revolts at her first admittance to the High Service of her faith… which turns out to include the actual drinking of blood!  We quickly learn that she is being lied to and manipulated by various parties, including her own tochtin, Tlaloc, and apparent agents of the Queen’s enemy, the Knave of Clubs.  Before she can truly regain her free will, Alice has multiple layers of truths to learn and secrets to uncover, each one more dangerous than the last.

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