Well this was an interesting first book in a planned trilogy (I am guessing). There's enough there to maybe have me read book #2. The world building was interesting, but didn't delve enough in the end. The character development of everyone in this book was not great. I absolutely hard sighed at a love triangle showing up which I am sure is going to get more play in the next book. I also think that the time jumps didn't help matters and I think that there needed to be even more tie-ins to Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." This is a retelling/reimagining of that book so you need to have some key characters showing up. The whole Nightmare monsters thing really didn't work for me at all and that's probably because McKinney didn't set it up very well.
"A Blade so Black" follows 17 year old Alice as she fights monsters known as Nightmares in a place called Wonderland.
The initial set up of how Alice finds out about Nightmares was interesting, but it ended up showing what I think are the largest issues I have with the book. Alice is told something random by a character (in this case Hatta) and then all of a sudden the book time jumps several months and then jumps to a year later. So going by the book math, Alice is told that she has to fight and possibly die to keep Wonderland safe when she is what, 15? The whole thing made my head hurt. Considering that Alice is dealing with a pretty significant life event when this all happens, I can see why many readers found this jarring. You don't get a chance to settle in with Alice before the book forces you into multiple action scenes.
Focusing on Alice. I feel disappointed in how there doesn't seem to be much there, there. We know that she's a black girl living in Atlanta. She has two best friends, Court and Chess. She also is a great sewer, into cosplay, and apparently Sailor Moon. Oh and she can fight. I just needed more time with just her, by herself, not figuring out how to lie to her mother (badly) and how she can keep throwing herself into the deep end in Wonderland. The love triangle aspect didn't help matters either. I felt like she just liked the two objects of her affection because they were there. I also felt a bit....off about the fact that there seemed to be no black boys that she was interested in. And that's not saying that I am against bi-racial relationships. It just seemed weird to me that Alice's only friends is a light skinned bi-racial girl, and a white boy, while she lives in Atlanta which has a huge population of black people.
Speaking of Alice's friends, they are merely there to advance the plot and or to show Alice feeling torn. We only really see sparks in the character when she is around Hatta who is her mentor/teacher about how to fight Nightmares. We get some revelations around this character throughout the book, but nothing was a surprise with Hatta. Courtney annoyed the life out of me for acting like a spoiled brat in this book. Chess I didn't care for at all. I really wanted to know why Alice had zero other friends and apparently no cousins or anyone else that wouldn't be checking in on her or hanging out. I couldn't walk out the door of my house without a random cousin in my face.
The writing was choppy I would say. McKinney relies too much on information dumps to impart information to Alice or others and we also don't allow Alice time to figure out things. I don't think the time jumps helped. It would have been a better idea for book one to just have our Alice explore Wonderland and be trained by Hatta. And that way readers could become more immersed in the world and have a better understanding of the kinds of things that Alice could do and why she was able to. Book two could have been the plot line that this book followed.
The world building as I said was interesting. McKinney takes Wonderland and gives it what I would consider the Tim Burton treatment. However, there is a lot there that doesn't make sense and doesn't work. For example, why are zero adults able to fight Nightmares (I don't even recall if the book said why) and why there are not more people like Alice that can fight them? You would think that Hatta's main purpose would be to find others if Nightmares are such a scourge and all. I am also disappointed that we don't get more reimaginings for key characters like the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, the March Hare, the Doormouse, etc. I think I only saw some of that with Hatta (the Mad Hatter), Chess (maybe the Cheshire Cat), and Dee and Dum. She tries to tie things into an original Alice who came to Wonderland which I assume pops back up in book 2, but that was left largely unexplored here.
The ending didn't work at all. Having a book end on a cliffhanger drives me up the wall. You still have an ending for a particular book/saga/quest. I also didn't exactly understand what I was reading either, so that made it confusing.