PJV Quickie: The most important thing I can tell you about QUEEN OF HEARTS is that it is a re-visioning, an adaptation, of Alice in Wonderland, which is probably more than obvious to anyone who has ever read that book or seen a film/tv adaptation. I love Alice, and I love adaptations of it because Wonderland is such a fantastic place I love to see how different authors interpret the world, the story and the characters. QUEEN OF HEARTS by Colleen Oakes didn’t live completely up to my high ideal for a few reasons, but it was still a really enjoyable book, I think I would have enjoyed it more had it not been an Alice adaptation.
Review: Dinah is the Crown Princess of Wonderland, one day she will ascend the throne as the Queen of Hearts that is if she can survive long enough to get there. Wonderland’s court is a perilous place, with her mother dead, her brother Mad, a bastard half-sister (the Duchess), an ineffectual wimp of a tutor, and an abusive father who hates her for some inexplicable reason (it’s not inexplicable to the audience, you soon discover that he is just a jerk, and that’s putting it mildly) Dinah is on her own and her world is falling apart at the seams. In Wonderland the law states that Dinah will ascend to throne, to share it with her Father, on her 18th birthday. With that momentous day fast approaching it becomes obvious to Dinah that someone doesn’t want that to happen, that they are out to get her, she suspects her Father’s slimy, sneaky, advisor Cheshire, but the truth when she discovers it, nearly drives her as mad as her brother.
Colleen Oakes’ takes a deliciously Wicked style approach to her adaptation by focusing on the story of the titular Queen of Hearts the same way Maguire tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s like a comic book’s super hero origin story, except for the villain. Due to its nature of dealing with the story of how Dinah goes from innocent to villain it is a much darker story than its source material. For that reason one thought I had while reading it was, ‘Oh my gosh it’s like Lewis Carroll got together with GRRM and had a literary baby!’ Oakes’s Wonderland feels very Westerosi, and I actually really, really like that about it. Oakes does a fantastic job of humanizing a villain that has always been unsympathetic and hated, you really feel for Dinah and you want to root for her even though, like with the Star Wars prequels, you know that the end that is in store for her is anything but a happy one.
There were parts of the story that weren’t as successful as the characterization of the Queen however. The least successful part in my opinion was the mythos of Wonderland. Trying to make sense of the mythos in this story gets very hard very quickly. Dinah is as stated the titular Queen of Hearts that Alice battles in the source material, but within the mythos of the novel, Dinah, and her brother Charles are named for the so-called Wonderland Gods, Charles being Lewis Carroll’s real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and Dinah being the name of Alice’s cat. So how can these be the Wonderland Gods of old…if the adventures of Alice are supposed to take place during Dinah’s reign? That is something I really struggled with through the entirety of the novel, it just seems really inconsistent and unnecessarily convoluted.
Something else that didn’t work for me was the landscape of Wonderland, if I wasn’t being reminded constantlyby Oakes that QUEEN OF HEARTS takes place in Wonderland it would be easy to forget, because the landscape of this Wonderland bares absolutely no resemblance to the Wonderland that I am familiar with. That being said, as its own world it is absolutely fantastically imagined, rich, detailed, and unique (especially the Black Towers, I LOVED that part! And was also completely horrified by it, which is good!); it’s only when I try to force it into the frame of reference of Carroll’s Wonderland that I start to chafe. This is one of those adaptations where you almost have to forget that it is an adaptation and just appreciate it as a singular work of its own.
Overall feelings: I enjoyed the book, I wanted to love it as much as I love the source material and other adaptions like Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars and A.G. Howard’s Splintered series, but I just didn’t love it quite that much. I love the characters, they are my favourite part, and the plot is perfect, it really is a true origin story, but because the world itself just doesn’t feel like Wonderland I just felt like I was missing a piece of the puzzle the entire time. When I first finished it I felt like I loved it, but then the more I thought about it the more things kept springing to mind that made my love fade a little. But I did enjoy it and I am eagerly awaiting the next one, it just didn’t earn a spot on my favourites shelf.
Read this book if:
- You’re an Alice in Wonderland fan
- You enjoyed the Wicked books and their ilk
- You think villains can be sympathetic
Take a pass if:
- You don’t like adaptations/re-visions of classic stories
- You’re a Wonderland purist
- You’re looking for a love story or a happy ending