Sunday, July 24, 2016

Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes...

Publish date- 1/5/16
Publisher- Harper Collins
RRP- $19.99 (AUD)


Review time...

(A Brief) Synopsis:
Dinah, the future Queen of Hearts, has only months to wait until she will take the throne beside her brutal father, before she will take his power from beneath his fingertips and restore Wonderland to the peaceful glory she wishes it to be. Only, then she finds she has a half sister who comes to live at the palace, and a note of warning is left in food, and a sinister presence grows inside the castle.
Her throne is at stake, and Dinah won't lose it.

What I thought:
On a range of different levels, Queen of Hearts felt familiar- and this was a good thing, because it felt familiar to a book I love (Fairytales for Wilde Girls, Allyse Near; a favourite). The sense of sinister goings on, of ruthlessness, murder and madness (also soft, hazy brutality) was the same, and it was such an unexpected experience, finding those similarities; it made me so hopeful that I would find myself swept up in another impossibly wonderful read. And yet... I also found myself hoping, throughout, that the story would grow, become more than what it was proving to be.
Because Queen of Hearts was nothing like I thought it would be.

We get a bit of an insight on Dinah, the girl who will one day become the fearsome, ferocious Queen of (chopping heads) Hearts, but she still seems fuzzy to me, even now, her character only, really, lightly defined- there was so much potential and she was barely revealed. She's quite entitled (petty), rather fragile, quite childish and also... mean, and I feel like she hardly realised any of that about herself. She goes through some awful things, including having a wretched father, and throughout she felt very much along the lines of- everyone is against me, which got rather tiring when she really didn't do much about it. On the other hand, fragile characters are good. They're realistic, and knowing what was in store for Dinah in the future made it an unexpected and welcome twist when I had anticipated her to be utterly brutal, but I feel, simultaneously, as if it didn't work for her character in a complimentary way. I think being fearless and brutal might have been a better for her (which sounds absolutely awful, really). She might have felt like a truer character, for it.

I feel, too, like Dinah went through hardly any character development. She loves Wardley, a stablehand-come-guard and- I didn't understand why, or get a real sense of that love (apart from her swooning everywhere) and we only met him a handful of times, as it was. She adores Charles, her brother (the Mad Hatter, apparently), who is confined to his room- we see her visit him three times, yell at her father for never visiting him and being horribly indignant at her hated half-sister for visiting him almost daily. I wish Dinah had been given a chance to develop beyond her spite and petty behaviour. There was such a chance for it, too, right at the beginning; Dinah finds a tunnel out of the castle, which she's never left, and she gets locked out by someone, and after that... something about her changes, according to everyone. She loses her mind, a little. But this was just not shown at all. We hardly got to know her before hand, and afterwards she seemed exactly the same.

The plot never felt truly distinct, moving this way and that but never really drawing me in. The end goal seemed to be Dinah's coronation (and her fantasy of marrying Wardley) and that was interjected with a mystery Dinah falls into head first when she finds a note concealed in her food. Her suspicions were aroused, built upon almost nothing, but mine were not, and thus following this twisting plot line... wasn't really something I had much interest in, at all.
The pace was also rather unsteady, jumping forward in weeks and months- at one point, two months before the coronation, we learn a month has passed in which Dinah has basically been in a daze. Just before the event she's been waiting for all her life. And she suddenly didn't care so much.

Intermingled with the mystery, we got to go outside the castle just once, and while it so was very neat to see that bit more of the kingdom, I wish it had been expanded so much more. My favourite scene was right at the end, where there's some really gorgeous forestry description which was beautiful, vivid and captivating, and that made me want to keep reading. I would have loved to come across that earlier. Even seeing more of the castle would've been wonderful, since we saw a bare few rooms and returned to them semi regularly. This is Wonderland, and most of the time I couldn't tell.

As it stands, despite that gorgeous end scene and my interest being piqued, I don't see myself reading the sequel. This could have worked so well as a standalone, the two books brought together and made tighter to form a longer but more focused and driven novel. That, I think, I would have enjoyed so much.

Rating: Hmm.
Although full of potential, and with some spots I did enjoy for the intrigue and trying to work out what will happen to particular characters, how they tie into the story we know, rarely did I feel like the majority of the potential was really dug into, and as a result of that, uninspiring characters, and a plot I didn't quite see the end goal of, this was a let down.


  1. This one sounds so intriguing. It does seem like it has potential but I liked how you explained why it didn't work for you this time. I love whimsical reads but when you can't latch onto a character, it can be difficult. I don't have many Alice in Wonderland inspired reads on my radar but friend recommended The Collector's Society by Heather Lyons to me (adult alice - people think she's recovered from madness but then she re-enters a detective agency which is trying to solve a mystery around the parallel universes that exist classic stories like her own). It's on my kindle to read someday.

    1. I adore classic retellings and Alice is definitely a story that has so much potential, so the fact I really wasn't invested was definitely a particular let down, since I had hoped for so much. It definitely helps, in most cases, to conect with a character (even if it isn't the MC), although there have been books where I haven't and it's okay, it's just that type of read. I feel like I could have come close to really being invested with Dinah, but then she would do something and I'd remember the reasons I wasn't.

      Ooh, that sounds really wonderful! I don't read much adult at all, but I've just added that one to my tbr. It sounds pretty marvellous! I hope we both love it! (Let me know how you go!) xx

  2. I do tend to understand and relate more to fragile characters but if they remain stagnant throughout the book it just gets frustrating. Mean characters are always hard for me to connect with/care about so I think this book would be a challenge for me. The only exception I've found to this so far is the Queen in the Lunar Chronicles series. It's a shame when a book doesn't turn out to be everything you know it could have been :/ Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one!

    1. Oh, definitely! I feel like in many cases the fragile characters are more relatable to me, too, but I do want some kind of development to be present, rather than, like you said, for them to just remain at that one point and not grow beyond it.
      Dinah isn't outlandishly mean, more... subtly. And the fact she doesn't even realise some of the things she does are mean/cruel makes that harder to get used to. I know who she becomes, I know that the Queen of Hearts isn't a nice character, but I guess the way Dinah portrayed that in this book was a little bit difficult for me to connect with.

      It is! But I know there are so many books out there, and some I'll not be a huge fan of and others will cherish, and some I'll love and not everyone else will. I definitely wanted more from this one, but I'm sure others will think it's just perfect! That's what I love about books. *sighs happily* Thank you so much, Alise. xx

  3. Oh, noooo. I read the first line of this about two or so weeks ago, and I wasn't impressed. Which really does not bode well for this book, and my experience with it AT ALL. Although, when I read Half Blood by Jennifer L. Armentrout, I was ready to DNF by page 30 or so, but decided to give it until page 50, and then it ended up being four stars. SO WHO KNOWS.

    I'm sad that you didn't enjoy this one, especially since it seemed like there were elements that you enjoyed, and had they been built upon, it would have made for a book better suited to what you wanted from it.

    I'll be super interested to see what I think - especially since it's the next book I'm reading - and how we compare on our feelings.

    Super good review, lovely! <3

    1. I'm glad you ended up liking it more than you might've anticipated! *cheers* It rarely happens, I think, but when that almost dnf and then OH SWEET GOODNESS THIS IS LOVELY happens those books tend to be wholly memorable. Which is lovely. That's exactly what happened to me with Fairytales for Wilde Girls (only it was about 200 pages of the considering dnfing) and now it's one of my most beloved. Somtimes things just click and magic happens.

      Me, too- and I'd been looking forward to it a heap, which made it even sadder. I hadn't really read or gone out of my way to find retellings for a little while, but this just sounded amazing. But I'm sure there'll be other retellings that will be told in a way I enjoy more, so I'm not giving them up!

      I'm very interested to read your review and see where we aligned and disagreed on this one! Tis exciting!

      Thank you, sweetie. xx


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