Review: Queen of Hearts: The Crown by Colleen Oakes

Sunday, February 8, 2015
Title: Queen of Hearts/The Crown
Author: Colleen Oakes
Genre: retelling, fantasy, young adult
Series: Queen of Hearts #1
Pages: 222 (ARC edition)
Published: February 14 2014
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Not every fairytale has a happy ending.
This is the story of a princess who became a villain.

A father’s betrayal. A Kingdom with a black secret. A Princess slowly unraveling.

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.

Part epic fantasy, part twisted fairy tale, this dazzling saga will have readers shivering as Dinahs furious nature sweeps Wonderland up in the maelstrom of her wrath.

Familiar characters such as Cheshire, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter make their appearance, enchanting readers with this new, dark take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

"She'll wear the crown to keep her head."

Everyone loves a good retelling of an old favorite. Everyone loves "reboots" or re-imaginings that breathe new life into stories we have known and loved for years. Queen of Hearts is a clever, inventive retelling of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that is ACTUALLY a much more a creative take on an origin story for Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts character. What the author has done here is like what Wicked did for The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz; the original perspective is flipped and the former antagonist of someone else's story is now the protagonist of her own story. It makes for an updated, different edition of a favorite story that is, at once, both familiar and brand new.

Oakes's version of Wonderland feels familiar while still obviously being the author's own interpretation on the classic. There's the nods to the source material: an ambiguous adviser to the King named Cheshire (who has "a feline smile"), there are soldiers/guards/cops called the various Card suites (the Heart Guards, etc.), etc. but Oakes has fashioned them all into a believable medieval-ish fantasy story with little to no magic. There's obviously a lot of information to be passed to the audience, but the infodumping is reigned in for the most part. The only issues I had with the writing were the infrequent-but-always-short-lived infodump, the occasional tendency to tell rather than show, and an overuse of CAPS in both inner monologue and dialogue.

What shines here are the creative refashionings of the old story on a new frame and the characters Oakes re-imagines (or invents) in her own way. This especially applies to the main character and eldest but most unwanted daughter of the King: Dinah. Dinah is another one of those prickly narrator-types. She reminded me most of Nyx from Cruel Beauty. If you don't like her, this story will probably be much less of a hit for you that it was for me. Much of her life she has been abused, neglected, or ridiculed by her own father. The book has its lighter moments, but it's obviously not all sunshine and All Tea's Day for Wonderland's princess. She's a bitter and angry young woman, but she isn't quite as hardbitten as Nyx.  You can see the kernels of what she will become and how far she will go in her at this young age, but Dinah is sympathetic frequently and likeable often.

Even with third person, you get to know Dinah very well through the short course of the story. She's fiercely protective of those she loves (even if they don't seem to love her back coughWardleycough), and she's smart. I liked that she was proactive, even if foolhardy in doing so. She doesn't want to be saved -- she's half antihero/half actiontastic girl with an insane plan to save other people and herself. She's interesting, and complex and watching her evolve from a teenage girl into the famous villain is going to be quite the trip with this author. And while I love a lot to say about Dinah, others such as her father and love interest and her "odd" brother (aka the Mad Prince aka The Mad Hatter) don't have the same luxury. They weren't as fleshed out as they could have been (Vittiore, anyone? What's her game?), but they all hold potential to become much more in the future. The bones are there -- Okaes just has to follow through.

There's not a lot of plot to be found in this series opener, but there's also not a lot of book to Queen of Hearts. It's impressive that Oakes does so much, lays so much foundation with so little time, but the clear missed chance to expand on the world and characters is felt by the end. Two of the books main issues are that lack of a clear plot and the abrupt way the novel ends. There's really no resolution to anything going on - the book cuts off after a very fast-paced and frenetic action scene (Wardley?! Mysterious benefactor!?) and.....credits. It's a painful end to a book that zooms along with hardly a misstep before. I wanted more from the ending. Not an unsatisfying cliffhanger. The wait for book two -- as of yet unset, and it unnamed! -- is horrible to contemplate. This is a book that leaves you wanting more! More sequels! More chapters! More anything, really. 

Basically, this book is what I wanted and didn't get from Splintered last year. Just detailed enough to be believable, clever enough to be its own creation while still recognizable as a retelling, Queen of Hearts is a promising and impressive book for Colleen Oakes. It's dark and twisty and hugely, engagingly entertaining. It's fun. It's Wicked meets Cruel Beauty with some of the better aspects of Splintered sprinkled in. If you liked Sarah Cross's Kill Me Softly and how that author redid fairy tales, this is likely the next book you'll want to buy.

I had a great time reading Queen of Hearts (though I hate that I can't tell if the book is Queen of Hearts or the series is Queen of Hear and the book is The Crown? Amazon has it has Queen of Hearts (The Crown). EVERYTHING IS SO UNCLEAR.) and I am on high alert for the next installment. Technically this was a 3.5 for me, but I had so much fun I rounded up to a 4/5.

Check this one out. It's only $3.99 for a kindle copy. You really have no excuse. Forgo Starbucks for one day and try this gem out.

1 comment:

  1. Wasn't Dinah the cat in the original?

    Great review, I've already picked this up, as commanded.


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