Initial reaction: This book rocked, I loved the establishment of the characters and setting in this interesting tale in the vein of Alice in Wonderland. Dinah is a very flawed but very well developed character and I'll admit I followed her very well throughout this narrative, alongside the rest of the colorful (and some admittedly creepy) cast of characters.
I debated a little while with my rating for this book, and decided "Whatever, this gets a solid 4.5 stars from me," with the extra half-star edging out because the story really pulled me in after a time, and I'm interested in seeing more of the environment and conflicts in this imaging of Wonderland. I don't give ratings like that often or without considering the story's impact on me - for imaginative quality, for the strength of the characterization, among other elements. There were a few things that did feel like they could've been expanded upon, but ultimately, this was fun. This is exactly the kind of retelling that's up my alley. Strong sense of conflict, intriguing characters (even if they aren't the most likable ones to follow), wonderful writing and interesting attention to players in this overarching world. Granted, Wonderland has always fascinated me, but I would never want to go there, specifically because the environment can be so twisted, you never know what's going to happen.
Especially when your viewpoint character happens to be a teenaged Queen of Hearts. Ooh, that had a lot of possibilities from the blurb in and of itself, but I'll recap briefly.
The story follows Dinah, the heir to the Wonderland throne, as she comes of age under her brutal father, with the love of a young Card soldier, with a brother who's "Mad" enough to where he can't take the throne (but whom she adores), and a number of interesting characters who provide support or opposition in various ways as she strides towards the day she will become queen.
One of the things I liked about "Queen of Hearts" is that there wasn't just one element or aspsect focused on in this respective story - there's betrayal, there's humor, there's snippets of romance, there's a whole lot of internal conflict, and layers of corruption that unravel as the story moves forward. There are many conflicts - subtle and overt - to be had in this narrative, but it's very easy to follow. Dinah herself has a temper streak and very naive view of all the complexities of Wonderland and what her respective role is in the beginning, but the narrative shows her growth. She's not always the most likable character, but she's developed so well that you can't help but follow her as she comes of age.
The environment of Wonderland is about as dark as I expected it to be, and there are quirks and interesting details that make it stand out as Dinah navigates her way through the political power plays and her father's attempts to undermine her position. She's a strong character with insecurities, but this is also a weird little narrative where it doesn't hesitate to tread on creepy territory. (Cheshire's character is rather...weird.) There are tarts and there are beheadings (sometimes both).
I really enjoyed the collective cast of characters in this narrative and watching them interact. If there were something that I wish I knew more about for conflict, it'd probably be the overarching backdrop of the war going on in Wonderland, but I suspect that might get treatment in the ongoing series. This is just the first volume and it's a treat. I'm already wondering where the narrative will go after the teaser that's included at the end here as Dinah moves forward after several harrowing events.
I loved it. I really enjoyed the journey, and definitely if you like Alice in Wonderland narratives, this is one to check into. I'm looking forward to more from Colleen Oakes respective series.
Overall score: 4.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.