Unhinged  - A.G. Howard

While I loved the first book's take on Wonderland, it had something that was a very big problem for me. That problem's name is Jeb. Unfortunately, we got a ton of him and a lot less of the Wonderland aspect, making this sequel a big disappointment for me.


Alyssa chose to live in the human world, but when dreams of Wonderland's destruction continue to haunt her and Morpheus shows up in the human world as an exchange student named M, Alyssa is forced to realize that she didn't leave the Wonderland stuff as far behind her as she thought. And if she doesn't do something in her role as queen, Alyssa might just lose everything.


*Just as a note, I'm going to switch off between referring to Morpheus as M and Morpheus. When I say M, that means I'm referring to him under his exchange student persona.*


Jeb is an awful person, but he is repeatedly painted as so perfect by Alyssa. All the problems I had with him in the first book are still present. He's still incredibly violent, controlling, and possessive. And no one views any of this as a problem. His own sister says that he has a "pound first, ask questions later" policy, but she doesn't see anything wrong with that. She actually thinks he and Alyssa are perfect together. We see Jeb's policy in action throughout the book. When he hears a story about Alyssa and M together from his ex-girlfriend who likes to cause problems between him and Alyssa, Jeb immediately flies into a rage and rushes to Alyssa's house where he slams M against a car and threatens to scar up his face. He didn't stop to ask either one of them about the situation. He just jumps straight to violence. He honestly belongs in jail. Even when there's not a human target present to turn on when he's angry, we see Jeb smashing furniture. That's not healthy. There is no doubt in my mind that if he and Alyssa stay together, one day he'll turn his fist on her because she'll do something to make him mad, and the only way he knows how to respond is through violence. And you can't tell me that he'd never do something to Alyssa because we already see hints of this. Near the end of the book, when Jeb is angry about something between Alyssa and Morpheus, we see him grab her necklace and jerk her to him so that he can kiss her. And the word 'jerk' is used. That's not exactly terminology that makes me think gentle and loving like Alyssa repeatedly claims he is.


And then there's Jeb's possessiveness. He gets angry over the fact that Alyssa spends anytime whatsoever with M, who, as far as Jeb knows, is a family friend that Alyssa's own mother considers practically family. When Alyssa's mom asks him to leave, Jeb intends to follow them to the hospital anyways just because M is there. Shortly before this, Jeb completely brushes off Alyssa's concern over a woman hiring Jeb to paint sexy portraits of her, which he agreed to do despite promising Alyssa that they'd talk about it. So Jeb is allowed to paint sexy portraits of a woman and Alyssa being concerned is ridiculous, but Alyssa can't even speak to a guy. That's a lovely double standard.


Jeb's also a jerk who actually lectures other people about being respectful. When he first meets M, he refuses to call him the name he wants, instead choosing to call him Mort. When Alyssa expresses surprise about M letting him do that, Jeb smugly says that he never asked permission. Let me note that Jeb has no knowledge that M is Morpheus, and this is the first time he ever met him, which started with Jeb threatening to scar up M's face. Nothing Jeb did is ever depicted as wrong in this scenario, which is horrifying. But even better, shortly after this, Jeb lectures M about being disrespectful. While M had certainly been disrespectful toward Alyssa's mom, Jeb is the absolute last person allowed to lecture someone else about being disrespectful, seeing as how he was nothing but disrespectful toward M from the moment they met.


Jeb is also controlling. When Alyssa is making plans to fight back against the Wonderlanders, she actually expresses surprise that Jeb is not trying to stop her. That really says something that she genuinely expects Jeb to get in her way as his first reaction. And that something isn't good.


Now it may seem weird that I hate Jeb so much when I don't complain about Morpheus. Morpheus definitely isn't good and does plenty of bad things throughout the series. I won't deny that at all. But there are several differences between Jeb and Morpheus that allow me to actually like Morpheus. First, Morpheus is upfront with the fact that he is manipulative and untrustworthy. He will do what benefits him and Wonderland, regardless of how Alyssa feels about this, and he's open about this. Second, all his manipulations and things are treated like the bad things they are. Unlike Jeb's bad actions, Alyssa doesn't just let Morpheus off when he does something wrong. She calls him out on it. Morpheus may not really care what she thinks, but I really appreciate the book addressing the fact that this is not okay behavior, which it never does with Jeb's behavior. Jeb's gets brushed away or romanticized. Third, Morpheus is not human, and the way he acts is shown to be absolutely normal behavior in Wonderland. The book does a good job showing just how differently things work in Wonderland and the human world. It would actually be weird if Morpheus didn't act the way he did because how he acts is typical for Wonderlanders. Jeb actually does have a good reason with his abusive father, but instead of making it something Jeb has to break out of, his actions are treated as perfectly okay when they are not okay behaviors for humans.


So basically, Morpheus was created in such a way where his actions make perfect sense for him, yet are still shown to not be okay actions in the human world. Jeb was created so that his actions make sense for him as a character, but they are then treated as perfectly okay by everyone when they really shouldn't be. And that is why I can like Morpheus, but not Jeb.


Alyssa frustrated me throughout the book too. And not just her romanticizing everything Jeb did. Over and over in the book, Alyssa has the realization that Wonderland is in danger and that she needs to do something about it. She then stalls, usually by thinking about Jeb, until the next time she comes to the exact same realization. Then the cycle starts all over again. This book felt very repetitious for large chunks of it. And not even interesting repetitious.


Alyssa is also incredibly insecure in this book. The source of her insecurity? Her boyfriend, Jeb. Being in a relationship should not make you insecure, but that's what we see here. As I said earlier, Alyssa is insecure over Jeb painting the sexy portraits of the woman. She's afraid that he'll leave her for the other woman. I'm just really tired of seeing book after book where the female lead is so insecure in her relationship. I'd really like it to be more common in books for female leads to actually be confident in their relationships and not constantly in doubt, thinking that the boyfriend might leave her at the first chance of a better offer.


Then there was the way certain things were treated that just annoyed me. Early in the book, Alyssa gets injured to the point where she is in a coma for several days. The only reason she comes out of it is because her mom uses magic to heal her. Upon coming out of the coma, it is basically treated like nothing by everyone. She goes to school within 36 hours of waking up. Now, I know being healed by magic does explain why she's better. I'm more annoyed by the fact that everyone who doesn't know about magic treats it as if she was just sleeping for a long time, instead of something having been seriously wrong. Her father puts up a bit of resistance to her going to school so soon, but that's really all we get. I just get annoyed by comas constantly being treated like a minor inconvenience that you can just wake up from with no problems. While that is a possible outcome in real life, it just gets annoying when it's the only option we ever see in fiction.


Then there was an incident later in the book that both annoyed and kind of horrified me. Jeb is drugged with a juice that causes him to only act on his desires. While under the influence of the juice, he has no idea what he is doing. His desire is to paint, so he chases after a rabbit to kill it so he can use its blood to paint. To stop him, Alyssa redirects his attention by kissing him so that he desires her more than he desires to paint. They then precede to get super hot and heavy before Jeb tries to kill Alyssa so that he can use her blood to paint. Now, I can totally understand Alyssa trying to redirect Jeb's attention and distract him by using herself. What I absolutely hate is how the scene is written (and seen by Alyssa) as incredibly romantic before he tries to kill her. Jeb has been drugged. He has no idea what he is doing and will have no memory of this once he is cured. She was not getting hot and heavy with Jeb. She was getting hot and heavy with his body. After he is cured, Alyssa looks back on this and thinks that she'll always remember it because this was the moment where they were finally equal. He was drugged! That should not be romanticized and thought back on with fondness. Especially since it ended with him attempting to kill her. Alyssa knows that he wasn't himself then, but doesn't think to extend the thought to when they were making out. Jeb was not capable of consent during that entire thing. I'm not disagreeing with Alyssa's methods to trying to stop Jeb. I'm disagreeing with the fact that it was romanticized. That is horrible. Also, when your female lead only feels like she's her boyfriend's equal when he's drugged and not himself, that's really bad. (Also, I can't believe that this book actually did something that made me defend Jeb. That's how much that scene bothers me.)


I still find the Wonderland elements of the book interesting, but a lot of the other things thrown into the book really took away from my enjoyment of it. I didn't even mention every thing that I had problems with since my review was starting to get a bit long, although I made a long list as I read so I had other examples I could have used. It's just such a shame to me that a genuinely interesting concept has so many elements that I find extremely problematic. I like this take on Wonderland and its inhabitants. They're interesting. Alyssa's struggle between her human and netherling side is interesting (or it could be if we had more focus on that than on Jeb). I want to like this series so much, but it feels like the series is actively working to make me hate it. And that may be what disappoints me the most about it.