Writing is a learning process. You learn more about yourself along the way, including the parts that you buried deep inside you and forgotten.
Blood Reign (a Chronicles of Alice novel)
This is the first YA novel I’ve ever written. I’ve been mulling at whether or not this is an Alice in Wonderland retelling, or another category in itself.
The thing that makes it complicated is because the storyline is original, it can be considered as a theme on its own, but it can also be taken as a Wonderland retelling due to the light references from the classic. So let’s take a look.
Similarities to Alice in Wonderland:
1. MC is named Alice. Blond hair, blue eyes (typical Alice appearance I know).
2. Alice falls into a different world.
3. Alice journeys to find home.
4. There’s an evil queen who likes to kill people (there’s always an evil queen).
5. There are small references to the original story (e.g, quotes, similar character speeches).
Non-similarities to Alice in Wonderland:
1. The original Alice is petite and a sweet-looking girl, whereas my Alice is tall, and racked full of muscles (because she works out a lot).
2. Alice is a fencer and sometimes struggles with her blood lust.
3. Alice pretends to be a man during her journey in Wonderland.
4. Wonderland is set in a medieval world, and infested with monsters (demons, bandits, dragons, etc).
5. Alice is a stoic character. (We call this ‘tsundere’ in Japan).
6. Alice journeys to find her way home, but only because she wants to avenge her mother’s death.
7. Deemed to be a hero, yet she finds it ironic that she wields a Sword of Fire, which is known to murder thousands of men in the past.
So there you have it! There are more differences of course, and the storyline of Blood Reign isn’t like the original story at all. It is a portal fantasy but . . . it’s complicated. It’s not like Narnia where Alice goes to Wonderland, do her stuff and returns home. There are political intrigue, making important friends along the way, become a symbol of hope, fight against the Royal Army and dealing with assassins.
There are many dark themes, some parts can be a bit too graphic for people’s taste (but it’s all under YA line so it’s cool 🙂 ).
Reasons for writing this book
The truth is, reality is cruel. It’s filled with violence and injustice. Look at the conflicts between Palestine and Israel. Thousands died in such a cruel, inhumane way. It’s injustice yet nobody is doing anything about it. Children die everyday in Africa due to poverty. The government is corrupted and only cares about wealth and power. The rich is living on the sufferings of poor people.
But what do people do? Nada. We are helpless most of the time. There are two types of people in this world: people with sympathy and people with compassion. You can sympathise with people facing injustice, but you won’t lift a finger to help them. Maybe it’s due to the lack of money, lack of power, and you might think that you alone won’t change a damn thing so there’s no point trying to help out. Or maybe you’re just oceans apart.
Then, there are others with compassion. They can’t stand watching injustice so they try and contribute. They donate, go to protest march, fill out petitions, and raise awareness. They feel deeply affected and their hearts hurts from seeing pain. They want to make this world a better place.
I wrote this book because I want to shed hope in a world of darkness. Blood Reign is a fantasy story about a girl living in a contemporary world who faces injustice against her mother. To escape her mother’s killers, Alice jumps off a cliff but awakens in an unfamiliar world in the middle of a blood-soaked battlefield. Here, she journeys to find home but it’s not easy. For one thing, this medieval world is filled with injustice, violence and tons of innocent blood spilled to the ground. There are predators preying on humans and not just monsters, but also people itself: the evil queen, bandits, corrupted officials etc. Civilians live in fear all the time, and despair over deaths.
So Alice’s arrival brings hope. Because she is strong, brave, and even though she has many flaws (her penchant for blood lust), she is compassionate. She can’t stand seeing people in pain. She sticks up to them, save them when they’re in trouble even if it means her death. That’s not to say that she is perfect. Far from it. She breaks down after a fight. She’s racked full of grief because of her mother’s death. Sometimes she’s tired of fighting, and want the whole world to disappear. That’s where her friends comes in. Alice meets very interesting characters along the way: a kind-hearted physician and a runaway slave. They’re the ones who hold her when she falls apart. A hero isn’t just one person. It’s a bond. Friendship is a powerful tool because it gives hope and the will to live on when their lives are unbearable to live. Together, they can change the world.
Here’s my query letter for Blood Reign. It’s not perfect but it’ll give you a rough idea of what this story is about:
Seventeen-year-old Alice finds herself trapped between the men who killed her mother and a five-hundred-foot drop. Rather than face the killers’ dark plans for her, Alice jumps.
But instead of death, Alice wakes up in a blood-soaked battlefield in an unfamiliar world, where armoured men are slaughtering peasants. Terrified, she flees and encounters a seer, who reveals to Alice that the only way back to her world is by seeking a witch with the power to transport her back.
In this alternate reality, Alice is forced to disguise herself as a man to protect against marauders. She must survive the war between the queen and rebels while battling the flesh-eating monsters stalking Wonderland. Her lust to avenge her mother’s murder fuels her desire to find her way home.
As Wonderland falls into chaos, Alice finds herself drowning in violence and bloodshed. Struggling to keep her sanity, she discovers that slaying monsters has its price. If this world falls apart before she can return home, Alice risks becoming the worst monster of all.
Blood Reign’s 1st chapter (subject to revision)
Before Alice got into Wonderland, she had to fall pretty hard down a deep hole.
Muscles tensed, I stalked my prey, eyeing him from behind my mask. My ragged breathing amplified inside the white fencing suit, drowning outside noise. The suit was supposed to protect me, yet it served to protect him from me.
Go for the throat.
My swordhand vibrated with energy, and I launched a parry of attacks. Blood streamed into my veins, my heartbeat burst to life. Bliss. I dodged his sabre and lunged forward, stabbing the blade toward his heart. The sports hall exploded with cheers as blood sang in my ears. Victory rushed through me, echoing the sweet, sharp metallic twangs of clashing swords.
“15-8! Southampton College—champion of the Summer Duel!” the voice boomed. And just like that, it was over.
I pulled back, my jaw ticked with irritation. Too soon. I should’ve stalled rather than pouncing for him like a homicidal maniac.
I clenched the sabre, curbing myself from giving in to the roaring hunger. One reason I hated local tournaments was that many opponents were hardly worth fighting. But it killed time whilst waiting for the regional games. My opponent grabbed his mask and yanked it off. Sweat streamed down his face, skin flushed.
“Nice game.” He saluted me with his sabre, expression sullen.
My classmate Leona flanked me immediately, jumping with excitement. She looked at my opponent, her face smug. “What do you expect? Our captain’s the best fencer in the region. Probably in the whole world.”
I pulled my mask free, blond hair escaping the hairband to tumble down in long waves. My opponent gaped.
“You’re a girl?”
I shrugged. “I happen to be.” Strands of wet hair plastered my cheeks as I tucked my mask under my arm, sabre in the other hand. He saw me briefly when we saluted before the match started but my hair had been in a bun. The loose silver lamé didn’t help much either. It covered my chest and any signs of femininity. I wasn’t in the mood to entertain him about my gender, not when Leona squealed non-stop in my ear, adding to the noise of the hall and giving me a headache. Annoyed, I turned away from the people and the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights.
“Wait,” he called. “I just didn’t expect the famous captain everybody talked about to be a girl. I can’t believe I just lost to a girl!”
I ignored him and continued making my way toward the empty corridor. His assumption of my gender didn’t bother me. I was used to being treated as the opposite sex anyway. As the society’s captain, I often hit the gym with the guys, and because of my gender, I had to be more hardcore than them. It was an unspoken rule for a girl in a man’s world. They wouldn’t regard me as their equal otherwise.
“Alice, where are you going?” Leona grabbed my arm but I shrugged her off.
She frowned. “What about the after party?”
I gave her a rueful smile and slapped her back. “Enjoy yourselves. I’ll see you in class tomorrow.”
“What’s the point of having a celebratory party without the winner?” Leona shouted, but I didn’t turn back as I disappeared into the hallway.
I hastened to the changing room so I could take off these clothes that were suddenly too tight, suffocating me. I loved fencing, but I hated the uniform. My fingertips hummed with restless energy. I felt rage, like a monster in my head, under my skin, everywhere. The urge to unleash violence. He was especially loud when I duelled, but I preferred loud to quiet. He was more dangerous in silence.
I retrieved my belongings from the locker, and took out my mobile phone from my bag. I had twenty missed calls. All from the same person: Jeremy.
Sucking in a breath, my fingers shook as I pressed the call button. I still felt jittery from the fight, leaving me cold. After five tries, I gave up and called my mum instead. There was only one reason Jeremy would call me. We had something more in common than just being classmates. Jeremy’s dad, Garyl, was a douchebag businessman hopelessly in love with my mother. But it was his wife that scared me.
The line kept on ringing and ringing, a never-ending melody of a heart monitor without a heartbeat. Groaning in frustration, I flung the phone on a bench, and stripped out the lamé, white jacket, arm and chest protector as quickly as I could. I slipped on jeans and a shirt, before binding my hair into a high ponytail.
Stuffing the sabre into my bag, I hauled it over my shoulder and left the college. The sun dipped low over the horizon as I skirted the parking lot to the main road. Despite participating in the competition, my energy still ran abundant. My heart pumped fast, the blood rush pounded into my head. Maybe I was just being paranoid because of Jeremy’s missed calls, but Jeremy’s mum had a dangerous reputation. She’d come to our place once with mobsters. They trashed the shop, but at least they hadn’t lifted a finger on my mum. I was in class at the time. If I had known, I would’ve fought them even if they outnumbered me.
I would’ve killed them if they’d touched her.
Gritting my teeth, I ran faster.
Street lights glowed by the time I reached home. My shirt dampened from the heat, my breath laboured. Wiping my brow with the back of one hand, my other hand dished out the key and fumbled to open the shop door. Recently, my mum had purchased a flower shop and we’d moved to the small apartment upstairs. It wasn’t much, but better than the studio room we’d lived in with its black, mouldy walls and the sour smell of cigarettes and puke.
I padded into the shop, looking for any signs of trouble. But the place appeared undisturbed. I was about to go up to the apartment when something made me pause. There, on the concrete floor, lay a broken pot of violets. Its stems were crushed and a lone petal clung desperately onto the sepal. Potting soil littered the floor. I stared at it. Violets were my mother’s favourite. She was obsessed with them. Seeing them on the floor felt like something more precious had broken.
My palms dampened and I looked at the back of the shop, where stairs led to our tiny apartment. I was surrounded by darkness, except for moonlight filtrating through the windows. We always kept the stairway light on.
I swallowed. Silence had never been quite so loud. I walked slowly to the stairs. It could just be an extinguished bulb, and the pot of violets could have fallen on its own. Yet, my heart throbbed like I was about to duel against a formidable opponent. I flipped on a switch but no light came on in the stairway. Weird, did it blow out? By the time I got to the landing, I noticed the darkness continued into the apartment. Did the city have a blackout?
Something crunched beneath my sneakers. I lifted a foot to find shards of glass on the landing. I looked up to the ceiling, eyes going wide. The bulb had been shattered.
I drew in a panicked breath and crept into my apartment.
“Mum?” I whispered more frantically.
My throat was dry as I surveyed the place. The living room and the kitchen beyond appeared empty. Yet uneasiness took me hostage. I didn’t believe in karma, but after seeing the broken pot and now the dead lights, it perked my sixth sense and I would be a fool to dismiss it.
Dropping my bag to the floor, I pulled out the sabre, and mirrored a fighting stance. The floorboard creaked a little as I crossed to my bedroom. I nudged the door and peeked through the gap. It appeared intact. My school laptop hummed on the desk in hibernation. It didn’t look like we had been burglarized.
When I reached my mum’s bedroom, I saw her bunny slippers by the bed through the gap of the door. She always wore them around the apartment because we didn’t have any heating underneath the floorboards. My shoulders sagged in relief. She was probably asleep. I scoffed at my paranoia. I pushed the door wide and stepped into her room.
I saw a word on the wall first, painted in large letters. Whore. The ink dripped, making the wall bleed. The second thing I noticed that it was indeed made of blood. My chest burst as if I’d been sucker-punched. A scream ripped from my throat and the sabre dropped with a heavy thud. My eyes widened, and a wave of vertigo flowed over me, like the floor suddenly disappeared under my feet, and I fell into a dark hole.
What was once a white bed was now drenched with crimson. Blood splattered across the baby blue wall and the headboard, dripping from the mattress, creating small pools of red ink on the floor. They plinked to the ground, like water dripping from the tap. My mother lay in the middle of the bed, wearing her favourite white nightgown, ribbons of red now decorating it. Her eyes were wide and frozen, a line of blood trickling down her mouth. She was so pale that I could see blue veins running under her skin. What was once a beautiful mass of sunshine hair was now dirty red.
Her stomach lay open as if something had ripped her flesh. I struggled to make sense of all the blood. There were coils of red rope in the open wound and I dropped to the floor retching, my eyes filling with tears. The rancid smell of vomit mixed with the perfume of death. I shook with painful tremors.
“Mum . . . Mummy,” I cried. I let out another gut-wrenching scream, clawing my cheeks in despair. I could only crouch there, staring at the corpse of my mother. I was afraid to get closer, to touch her. I didn’t want to see those lifeless eyes.
“Please, let it be a bad dream.”
Heavy boots thudded on the wooden floor and my cries choked off. The footsteps stopped behind me and the floorboard creaked. My heart hammered in my rib cage, and I trembled. There was a loud exhalation, then a cold voice.
“Do you like it? We were specifically told to be as artistic as possible.”
Hair raised on my neck. “Why?” I whispered. Why her?
“Penance for her sins.”
My nails dug into my palms, welcoming the pain to dull this agony. “She was an angel. She never sinned.”
“Who cares? The ending is still the same for those who caught the eye of a devil.”
“Who are you?” Tears streamed down my cheeks.
“It’s not who we are that’s important.” The footsteps crept closer. “It’s who wanted your mum dead.”
“The wife.” I bit out those words. Jeremy’s insane mother. Anger slithered in my veins, turning my grief into an inferno of hate. My body shook, and I wanted to scream until I shatter.
“The.Wife,” he emphasised slowly. “Clever girl, now come with us quietly and you won’t end up like your mum.”
He was so close I could feel his body heat. I forced in painful breaths as my fingers reached out for the sabre. The monster was strangely quiet in my head, but his fury thundered into a dangerous tempest. Something inside me snapped, and part of me died and awakened at the same time.
The floorboard creaked again. I lunged for the sabre and swung it between his legs. An outline of a tall man loomed in the darkness of the room before the three-foot-long steel whipped against him. He howled, his knees bent. I stood and kicked him squarely in his chest and he crashed against the hallway wall. I jumped after him, slamming the guard onto his skull.
Shouts came from the living room and I whipped toward them. Three more men dressed in jeans and black shirts stood there. They had weapons; one carried a long, curved scimitar. Street punks carried knives. Only a real gangster would carry an intricate blade like a scimitar. The blade shone in the moonlight, my mother’s blood coating the steel.
The world drowned with red. Rage roared in my ears, turning me into a dynamite. Tick. With a cry, I dashed to the living room, swinging the sabre. Tock. They moved to intercept me, but I was fast. They may be gangsters, but they didn’t have my training. Tick. Circling, I cut through the men. I swept the sabre to the one nearest and sliced his jaw. The sword wasn’t sharp, but even a steel whip can cripple you with pain.
Tock. A knife slashed before I could dodge, cutting through my flesh. I winced, arm throbbing, but I ignored it and blocked another attack. I was glad for the adrenaline. It numbed the pain. Anger fuelled me and burst free like a raging storm. I hollered, crouched and leg swept my attacker. He crashed against the coffee table, glass splintered all over the floor. Ignoring the glass spraying on my skin like shards of diamonds glittering in the moonlight, I smashed the guard on his head. I heard his skull crack but didn’t stop to shout victory before something heavy clobbered me. I moaned, my knees gave out, and I fell.
Get up. Fight.
I willed myself to stand but I’d become lead. A boot wedged under my stomach and flipped me. Vision flickered, my fingertips moved. I had to get up. My mother was just in the next room. I had to see her. But my body refused to cooperate. I cried in frustration as regret poured into me like a deadly poison.
My mouth opened slightly.
I needed to tell her.
That I loved her.
Something heavy smashed against my head, and this time, everything went dark.