Morning mortals! Having just reviewed a stupendous evil queen retelling (Forest of a Thousand Lanterns for those who’ve just joined us) I thought it would be a good time to review another villainous origin story. In this case, it’s Colleen Oake’s Queen of Hearts saga, which tells…not so much an origin story but an alternative retelling of the story. Harper Children’s publishing is about to release the three books in this series as a kind of omnibus which essentially means I binge read all three books as if they were one. It was an interesting time. There may, therefore, be spoilers for the later books in here but I will attempt to keep them minimal and superficial. But how did this fare?
Goodreads Summary for book #1:
This is not the story of the Wonderland we know. Alice has not fallen down a rabbit hole. There is no all-knowing cat with a taunting smile. This is a Wonderland where beneath each smile lies a secret, each tart comes with a demand, and only prisoners tell the truth.
Dinah is the princess who will one day reign over Wonderland. She has not yet seen the dark depths of her kingdom; she longs only for her father’s approval and a future with the boy she loves. But when a betrayal breaks her heart and threatens her throne, she is launched into Wonderland’s dangerous political game. Dinah must stay one step ahead of her cunning enemies or she’ll lose not just the crown but her head.
Evil is brewing in Wonderland and maybe, most frighteningly, in Dinah herself.
This is not a story of happily ever after.
This is the story of the Queen of Hearts.
The other Queen of Hearts retelling/origin I have read was Marissa Meyer’s Heartless which didn’t manage to live up to the sheer amount of hype it generated. This story, by contrast, had a lot more bite to it and was certainly a lot darker (which appeals to my shriveled dark soul). I also think it is definitely a series that builds as it develops throughout the three books. Not only does the worldbuilding improve but Dinah (our protagonist) get’s hugely less whiney by the end of book two.
My main issue with this and all Alice in Wonderland retellings I have found is that none of them have managed to capture the whimsy of Carroll’s original books. This is a captivating story, that much is certain. These are interesting characters and the setting is powerful. But it’s lacking in those ludicrous elements that made Alice in Wonderland what it was. This book, while there are a lot of fantasy elements (there are evil trees, I love evil trees) still feels very grounded and sure of itself. In some ways that difference is explained near the end of the third book, which I appreciated, but it can’t be avoided that Carrol’s work was a bit of a jacket for this story to wear (if that makes sense?).
There are also some elements of ‘tribal’ lifestyles which is always a bit of a worry for me. For the most part…I think these were handled well. It’s hard to do so when the mentality of the culture from which your main character comes has a prejudice against the ‘tribe’ so that is the viewpoint that has to constantly come across. In later books, this handling got a little better, though there were moments that felt a little white savior-y.
Overall, I did enjoy reading all three of these books. As a fan of Alice in Wonderland I appreciated a lot of the references the book made, I enjoyed working out who was who and what was what. There are a good number of red herrings and plot twists to keep you interested and while the ultimate ending had some problems (which I won’t discuss here because spoilers but hopefully those who have read it will understand what I mean) it was satisfactory.
My rating: 3/5 stars overall.
I received a digital advanced review copy of these books from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Are you missing the whimsy too? Let me know in the comments below!