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Queen of Hearts, by Colleen Oakes
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Teen
Published: 2014
Review Posted: 5/7/2016
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated

Queen of Hearts, by Colleen Oakes

Book Review by SJ Higbee

Have you read this book?

The arresting black and white cover immediately snagged my attention and when I saw it was a dystopian take on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, I immediately requested this NetGalley arc.

As Princess of Wonderland Palace and the future Queen of Hearts, Dinah's days are an endless monotony of tea, tarts, and a stream of vicious humiliations at the hands of her father, the King of Hearts. The only highlight of her days is visiting Wardley, her childhood best friend, the future Knave of Hearts and the love of her life. When an enchanting stranger arrives at the Palace, Dinah watches as everything she's ever wanted threatens to crumble. As her coronation date approaches, a series of suspicious and bloody events suggests that something sinister stirs in the whimsical halls of Wonderland. It's up to Dinah to unravel the mysteries that lurk both inside and under the Palace before she loses her own head to a clever and faceless foe.

This book is squarely in Dinah's viewpoint throughout, which isn't always completely comfortable. While there is much to sympathize with -- she's had a fairly wretched time of it -- she is also spoiled, headstrong and bad tempered. I did spend a chunk of the book wishing I could shake some sense into her. However, what kept me caring is her undoubted courage and strong sense of loyalty to those she loves, as well as the fact that she is undoubtedly the underdog in the poisonous atmosphere of this palace.

The King is a tyrant -- think of the Red Queen in Carroll's version, flip the gender and you more or less have Dinah's father. He is deeply unpleasant and rules through fear with the twitchy paranoia many despots acquire. It doesn't help that he has always disliked Dinah. It became something of a sport to try and spot some of the characters who inhabited the original story as they popped up in Oakes' dystopian version of the book. My favorite characters were her kindly tutor, who is the White Rabbit, and Vittiore, Dinah's half sister -- who I'm guessing ends up as the White Queen.

The world is effectively depicted, with the palace bristling with gossip and intrigue. And for all her bluster, Dinah is clearly ill equipped to deal with any of it, as she longs for her coronation when she will rule alongside her father, the King, on the occasion of her eighteenth birthday. The narrative tension is effectively handled with the gathering sense of unease steadily increasing -- until the shocking denouement, which I didn't see coming. Though be warned -- this book ends on an absolute cliffhanger.

That said, you won't have to wait too long for the sequel, The Wonder, as this book was previously available under another imprint, so it is already written. Any grizzles? I would have liked a bit of the whimsy and playfulness of the original -- this is all very gritted, serious stuff and I feel Oakes could have provided just a little more light relief as a nod to the original than she does. While I enjoyed the book, there were times when my exasperation with Dinah's willful behavior impeded my ability to fully bond with her. Overall, though, I think the book is successful and an entertaining new version of Lewis Carroll's famous book.

The ebook arc copy of Queen of Hearts was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.

SJ Higbee
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