Publisher- Harper Collins
RRP- $19.99 (AUD)
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.
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.