I exist! And I’ve been catching up on my reading. I just looked back at my old posts and was surprised to realize my last review was almost a year ago. It doesn’t feel that long! I’ve had a few reviews half-scribbled in various notebooks, and I need to dig them out and post them here.
Queen of Hearts is a YA fantasy set in a Wonderland different from the one most are familiar with. The book follows Dinah, princess of Wonderland and future Queen of Hearts, as she navigates her father’s court. Despite being the heir to the throne, her father despises her, a fact rubbed in by his preference for her newly-arrived half-sister.
I picked this book up because I mistook it for Marissa Meyer’s Heartless, which has yet to be released and has been on my to-read list for a while. The cover is eye-catching, and I’m a fan of all things Wonderland. The book itself is…okay. It has a lot of faults which are partly redeemed by interesting worldbuilding.
This version of Wonderland is less satirical than Carroll’s and less of an acid trip than Disney’s, but is still weird and colorful. The author takes great delight in describing the setting, the architecture, and the outfits. (The book may have been better served as a graphic novel!) Much of the imagery of the original is intact, and the characters emerge in different but recognizable forms.
Future Queen of Hearts Dinah, however, is the least interesting character in the story. This is meant to be an origin story for a villain, so I overlooked a lot of her shortcomings. Good characters don’t have to be good people. Dinah, however, is rather dull, both in personality and intellect. She’s filled with anger and jealousy toward her half-sister Vittiore, who has never done anything bad to Dinah except exist. Dinah is the kind of character who is constantly surprised by things that are obvious to the reader, and is profoundly incurious, only acting when forced to. She falls into the “Not Like Other Girls” trap, frequently bemoaning how much she hates dresses and fashion, yet the narration is constantly telling us every little detail of her outfit. She claims to prefer books and exploration to courtly things, yet never reads a thing or does anything else to back up these claims. I wish the author had done more to set her up as an eventual villain, rather than spend most of the book telling us how nice she thinks she is.
Her father, the villain of the piece, is an absolutely horrible person with no redeeming qualities. The Cheshire Cat (my favorite Wonderland denizen!) appears as Cheshire, the king’s advisor. He’s obviously not as evil as Dinah thinks, but she’s too dumb to realize that. Her love interest is pleasant enough, and the romance isn’t beaten over the reader’s head.
The tone of the book is inconsistent. Most of it is entertainingly weird Wonderland, somewhat macabre, with just enough blood as a few heads are lost. There’s a section in the middle, however, where Dinah and her love interest sneak into the kingdom’s prison, the Black Towers, which is much gorier and more uncomfortably sexual than anything else in the novel. That particular part would have fit better in a book aimed at adults, where most of the story would probably be acceptable for middle grade audiences.
This book is mostly setup for things I assume will come later in the series. There’s enough to like that I would recommend Queen of Hearts to teens who like a darker story. It can appeal to fans of Alice in Wonderland, fairy-tale retellings, dark fairy-tales, and villain protagonists. I liked it enough to finish to book, but not enough to read more in the series.