I believe the Alice in the Country of Clover volumes are based on a sequel to the original Alice in the Country of Hearts game, but I'm not entirely sure about that. I haven't actually played any of the games, although I'd probably snatch them up if they ever popped up on Steam.
Anyway, as the beginning of each Country of Clover volume will tell you, these volumes star an Alice who never fell in love in the Country of Hearts. She has gotten to know everybody, so any romance that happens in these volumes is supposed to come across as more “friends to lovers” than “passion with stranger she's still getting to know.” One other detail: Wonderland has moved from the Country of Hearts to the Country of Clover. During the move, Gowland and his amusement park and Julius and his tower were expelled. They still exist, but Alice and the residents of the Country of Clover can no longer visit them. This causes some characters angst, which becomes more or less relevant depending on which subseries you're reading.
I really wish I had started with Cheshire Cat Waltz, where the move, the way it happened, and the effects it had were clearer and easier to understand. Unfortunately, I made another mistake: I started Cheshire Cat Waltz thinking that I had all the volumes, not realizing that it was actually a 7-volume series. I need to request the seventh volume sometime soon, before I completely forget what the previous volumes were like.
Cheshire Cat Waltz:
Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz (manga, vol. 1) story by QuinRose, art by Mamenosuke Fujimaru, translated by Angela Liu – Alice has chosen to stay at Gowland's amusement park, so she's upset when the move to the Country of Clover happens and she's expelled to a strange forest of doors. She finds temporary refuge with Blood and is reassured to see Boris (the Cheshire Cat) again. Boris is convinced he was expelled from the amusement park so that he could be with Alice. He helps her find a job but can't quite convince her that he's serious about her. He keeps coming on too strong, and all Alice can think about is how much it hurt to be rejected by her tutor, and how much her cat Diana (I'm pretty sure this was an editing error, since she becomes Dinah in a later volume) would run off if she paid too much attention to her. Boris is very catlike, after all.
This is a really nice Country of Clover starting point, since you can actually see the move happen. However, the theme of this volume is “Boris comes on too strong.” I'm not sure where on the scale he'd fall if I put all the guys in order of most physically affectionate to least, but he'd be pretty far over on the “physically affectionate” side. The short at the end, which featured him starting to forcibly undress Alice so that he could listen to her heartbeat (Wonderland residents have ticking clocks instead of beating hearts), was a bit much, although at least he realized he'd gone to far and apologized.
The twins show up too, and demonstrate a new ability – they can age themselves up and become sexy adults. Which is super weird after getting to know them as mischievous boys in the Country of Hearts.
At one point, Boris says something like “Everyone here likes you...even if you feel like being bad.” I think it sums up a lot of these volumes pretty well - everyone likes Alice, no matter who she decides to choose or how far she opts to go with that person.
Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz (manga, vol. 2) story by QuinRose, art by Mamenosuke Fujimaru, translated by Angela Liu – Alice meets Pierce (the Dormouse) and Gray (Nightmare's aide) and attends her first assembly. She worries that her argument with Boris in the previous volume chased him permanently away, but he pops up again in order to snatch her away from Ace. Alice and Boris agree to start dating, except Boris continues to come on too strong for Alice's taste. Alice wants to continue working and having a separate home, out of fear that Boris will eventually leave her. Boris fails to mention that he has the vial Alice needs in order to get back to the real world, and Ace continues to act strangely, trying to take Alice away from Boris and encourage her to use one of the mysterious doors.
I have a soft spot for Boris, even if he does come on way too strong. He's so openly, happily affectionate. The only thing I don't like is that he's jealous of Alice spending time with anyone but him. If she's not careful, he may lock her up and throw away the key. I was surprised at how soon Alice said “I love you” in this one – I hadn't expected that to happen for a few more volumes.
Those who like Ace as he is in this volume will probably love his Country of Clover one-shot. Too bad I'm not fond of this newer, darker, slightly unbalanced Ace. He seems to have taken the move the worst out of all the Wonderland residents.
Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz (manga, vol. 3) story by QuinRose, art by Mamenosuke Fujimaru, translated by Angela Liu – Boris continues to come on too strong (it's like a broken record, I know), worried that he might lose Alice to Peter or to her old world. He finally learns, from Nightmare, what ties Peter and Alice together – Peter is Alice's “Sunday afternoon,” although she doesn't remember it. Alice struggles with her embarrassment at physical displays of affection and finally sets some ground rules they can both be reasonably comfortable with. No PDA except maybe hand-holding, and in private they'll play it by ear.
Gah, Boris is so jealous all the time. I hate that, even though his fear that Alice might leave is legit. He may be good-looking and all (despite his ridiculous outfit – the zipper placement makes me laugh), but he needs to take a step back and maybe talk to Alice about the stuff that's worrying him.
The revelation about Peter confused me. How is he Alice's “Sunday afternoon”? Is he the personification of that time, or is this just QuinRose's way of saying that he was there during Alice's pleasant Sunday afternoon and therefore a part of that time? At any rate, Peter makes me sad. In so many of the subseries, this one included, he wants Alice to be happy and has to come to the realization that he has to stand back and let Alice be with someone else. Poor, annoying, violent bunny.
Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz (manga, vol. 4) story by QuinRose, art by Mamenosuke Fujimaru, translated by Angela Liu – Alice is accosted by a Faceless guy who is taken away and tortured by Blood's men (specifically, Pierce) to see if he's part of a rival family. Peter begins a deadly battle with Boris. Nightmare prevents Alice from interrupting, but she finally manages to break free and intervene. Alice and Boris have sex, further ensnaring Alice in Wonderland, but she still can't bring herself to move in with him. Blood refuses to let her pay to stay at his mansion, and she doesn't want to be Nightmare or Vivaldi's guest. The volume ends with a short featuring Boris fetching food for Alice after this volume's sex scene.
So many of the volumes in this series have kissing-only romance that it hadn't even occurred to me that some of them might have sex, so the on-page (tastefully done, but multi-page) sex scene caught me by surprise. It's vague enough that I suppose it could be really intense cuddling... Okay, so it was definitely sex. I had to laugh at one part of the volume, which turned a grape tomato being speared by a fork into sexual imagery.
Anyway, the relationship between Boris and Alice still has problematic elements, what with it being focused primarily on Boris's jealousy and characters' attempts to keep Alice bound to Wonderland. Even Nightmare referred to Boris as their “best ball-and-chain.”
Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz (manga, vol. 5) story by QuinRose, art by Mamenosuke Fujimaru, translated by Angela Liu – Some mobsters are after Alice because they think she's important to Blood, but Elliott and Boris save her. Boris and Ace clash, and Boris tries to convince Alice to move out of the Hatter Mansion, knowing that they're using her for their own ends. I'm pretty sure Alice still hasn't asked Boris if she can move in – now she's afraid he'll think she's only asking because she's in danger. Only half the volume is set in the Country of Clover. The other half is devoted to a short set in the Country of Hearts, back when Alice and Boris barely knew each other. Ace convinces Boris that Alice and Julius are a couple, making him jealous.
Ace flat-out says that the Alice he loves is “miserable and doesn't know what to do with her life.” He's happiest when she's unhappy, which...makes me like his one-shot (which I read prior to Cheshire Cat Waltz) even less. I can understand why the bit at the end was added – it tried to make Ace's terrible words and actions seem like something Nightmare directed him to do in order to keep Alice in Wonderland. Even so, I liked him more in the Country of Hearts than I do in the Country of Clover.
This volume is very meh. I could barely remember what happened in it, even right after finishing it. I disliked that only half of the volume was devoted to the main story – it made me especially glad that this was a library checkout.
Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz (manga, vol. 6) story by QuinRose, art by Mamenosuke Fujimaru, translated by Angela Liu – Alice leaves the Hatter Mansion with surprisingly little trouble. Unfortunately, then Ace interferes and almost gets Alice killed via a land whale (it lived in the water in the Country of Hearts, and continues to exist in the same space in the Country of Clover, even though that area no longer has any water). He's lonely and wants Alice to stay lost, like him. However, Boris and Pierce team up and save her, and Alice is finally able to bring herself to ask Boris if she can live with him (he's thrilled, which should surprise no one). Alice is still in danger from the mob, by the way.
The short from the previous volume continues: Alice is worried about Boris. She meets up with him again at the ball (with Gowland as her date) and is tripped by Boris's jealous admirer (the woman he hugged in the previous volume, to see if hugging her affected him as much as hugging Alice). However, Boris only has eyes for Alice.
I do plan to check out the seventh volume so that I can officially finish this subseries up, but I have to say that Cheshire Cat Waltz is a mess. It's too unfocused. We have an unstable Ace and his dangerous interest in Alice, Boris's jealousy (which is maybe/hopefully resolved after this volume?), and those mobsters who think they can use Alice against Blood.
QuinRose's Wonderland can be a bit dark at times, and this is a good example of a darker volume. Ace continued to be awful, in ways that could have gotten Alice killed, and Elliott tortured and killed someone who infiltrated the Hatter Family, showing the Hatters' more brutal side.
Again, only half of the volume is devoted to the main story. The other half is a bunch of jealousy – Boris is jealous of the relationship he thinks Julius and Alice have, and Alice is jealous of the Faceless woman she thinks Boris likes. Unfortunately, the one bit that I was interested in, Alice's vague memories of her sister telling her something, appears to have been forgotten. I hope that Volume 7 finally tells readers what it was that Alice's sister told her.
Ace of Hearts:
Alice in the Country of Clover: Ace of Hearts (manga) story by QuinRose, art by Mamenosuke Fujimaru, translated by Angela Liu – After the move from the Country of Hearts to the Country of Clover happens, Ace finds himself pushed out of his chosen role as Julius's helper. Now he's just Vivaldi's knight, a role he hates. Alice wants to help him, but she's also nervous around him, because he keeps coming on weirdly strong. She's also upset, because he thinks the only reason she doesn't push him away is because she's kind and friendly to everyone, not because he's someone special to her. However, in the end she realizes she loves him. The volume also includes three Crimson Empire shorts: one with Prince Edvard, one with Bryon and a pregnancy scare, and a humorous one with Marshall.
This volume began just before the move to the Country of Clover – I was so confused when Julius showed up at the beginning, because I thought the story was already in Clover. We get a bit more detail about Pierce – he acts as the Hatter Family's “cleaner,” retrieving and hiding clocks so that Ace can't retrieve them, which of course puts him at odds with Ace.
Out of all the volumes I read during my Alice in the Country of binge, this one was my least favorite. It could have been a fascinating exploration of Ace, the only role holder who dealt with the constraints of Wonderland by choosing a role for himself. Instead, QuinRose gave readers an incredibly discomfiting romance with a guy Alice halfway expected might kill her (and who she would have let do it!). I'd have preferred seeing Alice end up with Gray, who kept warning her away from Ace, or Vivaldi, who even ended up in her bed at one point.
Alice in the Country of Clover: Nightmare (manga) story by QuinRose, art by Job, translated by Angela Liu – Nightmare agrees to stop reading Alice's mind in the hope that she will agree to marry him. Then he takes kampo medicine that gives him tons of energy but takes away his telepathic powers, leaving him unable to defend himself and Alice from attackers. Fortunately, he gets his powers back just in time.
This also includes several extra shorts: two Alice in the Country of Clover (I assume) shorts and three Crimson Empire. The first Alice short features Peter taking too much mushroom-based aphrodisiac. The second Alice short features Alice, Dee, and Dum getting caught in a pit of Dee and Dum's own making. The first Crimson Empire short features Prince Edvard trying to make Sheila (his bodyguard) smile. In the second short, Sheila and Bryon ride horses. In the third, Prince Justin tells Sheila that she is his treasure.
As you can probably tell, the main story in this volume was goofy fluff. If I were a Nightmare/Alice shipper, I'd have been so disappointed, because it was terrible. And sadly, this volume's story was still more coherent than the other Nightmare-focused subseries I read, Alice in the Country of Joker: The Nightmare Trilogy. Most of Nightmare's main story was played for laughs, and yet it wasn't really all that funny. And most of the shorts managed to be sweeter.
I honestly think Nightmare and Gray make a better couple than Nightmare and Alice.
The Lizard Aide:
Alice in the Country of Clover: The Lizard Aide (manga) story by QuinRose, art by Job, translated by Angela Liu – Alice is secretly in love with Gray but doesn't think such a capable and mature guy could love her back. She begins a kind of game with him, where they talk to each other as though they're lovers, but even then she's sure that her love is one-sided. Then Alice becomes Blood's substitute after he's injured while dealing with an attack at one of Nightmare's assemblies. Gray gets jealous and wants Alice to come back to Nightmare's place. He fears that she might fall for the aggressively flirtatious Blood, who looks so much like her past crush. An attack on both Blood and Gray brings things to a head. This volume includes several extra shorts: one with Alice, Dee, and Dum, and two Crimson Empire. I didn't bother to take notes for any of them.
I'm still not a fan of Job's artwork, which looks sloppy and amateurish compared to Fujimaru's stuff, but this was at least better than Job's Nightmare-focused volumes. Like Julius, Gray feels more capable, steadier, and “safer” than a lot of the other Wonderland residents. Which is a little weird, considering that he used to be an assassin (and got to demonstrate some of those skills in this volume). The one thing I did not like was how he behaved after he started to get jealous of Blood.
The ending was a bit bland, with Alice giving Gray a lighter as a gift.
Alice in the Country of Clover: March Hare (manga) story by QuinRose, art by Soyogo Iwaki, translated by Angela Liu – Alice struggles with her growing love for Elliott, the March Hare and Blood's right-hand man. Her efforts cause Elliott to think that she's actually in love with Blood, the man Elliott admires the most. Peter and Elliott get into a fight, and Elliott freezes up at a crucial moment and gets shot. After nursing him back to health, Alice decides to finally be honest about her feelings.
Meh. Elliott is violent, a bit dense, and kind of bland. He's defined by his love of carrots and his devotion to Blood and is therefore a completely boring love interest. The romance also has an edge of ickiness, since Alice loves him in a way that makes her think of pets and little kids.
Because Elliott is so boring, the Alice who loves him is pretty boring and bland as well, despite her insistence that she has a dark personality. All hint of the overarching storyline (Alice's memories of her sister and tutor) is absent here. The best thing about this volume was the artwork. Iwaki is good at “shocked eyes” Alice.