If you’ve read or heard or even watched anything even remotely centered around Alice in Wonderland, then you’ll understand “Queen of Hearts” which is a Wonderland retelling, but focused on the future Queen of Hearts, and without an Alice. The twist the author gives her version of Wonderland is truly stunning, it sounds like a beautiful and terrifying land all at once. I also really enjoyed the twist she gave to familiar elements of Wonderland: The Cards aren’t actual cards, but different ranks and classifications for soldiers. Cheshire is a conniving, manipulative advisor to the King instead of a cat, the Mad Hatter is the main character’s (Dinah) troubled brother who does love making some pretty lovely hats, and while there is no white rabbit, we all know Dinah’s tutor is the little rabbit always afraid of being late. Unfortunately, that about sums up the things I really liked about this novel.
Here's the thing: Queen of Hearts is supposed to be a YA fantasy novel, Dinah is seventeen, going on eighteen, after all, but the whole book reads like an MG with how Dinah acts, and just the overall plot in general. Dinah isn’t all that likeable, which may have been a hold over from her source material, but as the protagonist, isn’t a great look for an MC. She’s pretty bratty, and she’s really, really thick sometimes. It seems like everyone knows something weird is going on in Wonderland, except Dinah. But what that weird thing is? Who knows, it’s only hinted at, you get the “feeling” of things being off, but nothing ever really comes from that. Also, despite Dinah’s father, the King, being nothing but horrible to his daughter, even beating her alongside all the terrible threats he makes, Dinah still believes that when she becomes of age, her dad will be chill and let her rule with him. Only Dinah is surprised when that doesn’t really turn out to be true.
Why does the King hate ALL of his children (except his literal golden, illegitimate daughter, that is)? It’s never really explained. The King is just hateful and mean to his kids “because”, which is my least favorite thing in a villain. If his horrible tendencies were meant to endear me to Dinah, it didn’t really work, as Dinah is just as mean to her step-sister as her father is to her simply because the girl exists. I get the sentiment, but Vittoire doesn’t do anything but try to be a sister to this new family, and she gets called awful names by Dinah for her trouble. There is a romantic element to the story as well, but I didn’t really buy into it. With Dinah being a princess and able to marry anyone she wants, there was no real sense that Dinah wouldn’t be able to get her man, because I don’t think he’d actually be able to say no if she seriously proposed they get married.
But that’s what I mean about this book feeling more like it belongs in an MG category. Dinah is so blind to everything around her that the “twist” of the story is only actually surprising to Dinah. The only thing that actually makes this a YA story is some of the really creepy-cool imagery you find with the Black Towers and the torture that goes on there, and the King’s penchant for cutting people’s heads off—this is Wonderland, after all, and heads will roll. But the plot? There wasn’t actually anything going on in the book until toward the end when everything just happens with little to no lead up because so much time is spent on world building, which would be fine if this was a longer book. The book feels pretty incomplete, more a prequel then the true start of a series, because it’s all set up with a vague promise that “something” may happen come the next books. But that vague promise isn’t enough to keep me invested in this series, unfortunately. The thing that is keeping this book a 2 star rating for me, is the setting. It is seriously awesome and I loved the imagery, but you have to have a story that can go toe to toe with your setting, and Queen of Hearts could not manage that.
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