Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...

Anyone For a Game of Croquet?

Forget everything you thought you knew about Wonderland and a precocious blonde girl who fell down a rabbit hole. 

Anyone For a Game of Croquet?

BOOK REPORT for The Crown (Queen of Hearts Saga Book 1) by Colleen Oakes

Cover Story: Philippa Gregory   
BFF Charm:
Eventually
Swoonworthy Scale: 5
Talky Talk: Beware the Creeping Dark
Bonus Factors: Wonderland, Courtly Intrigue, Frenemies
Anti-Bonus Factor: Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting
Trigger Warning: Torture/Physical Abuse
Relationship Status: Team Dinah

Cover Story: Philippa Gregory

You might say that I learned everything I know about a certain period in English history from Philippa Gregory. Her Tudor series’ covers had a signature style that almost ALL European historical fiction has since copied. Queen of Hearts is definitely more on the “adult” than the “young” side and so the cover is well-suited. The isolation and loneliness that Princess Dinah feels is palpable as she stands alone in a doorway, looking outside, hands clenched in front of her.

The Deal:

Dinah, Princess of Wonderland, is 15 years old the day her father, the brutish King of Hearts, announces to his kingdom that he has fathered another daughter, but out of wedlock, the blonde, shy, Vittiore. Dinah has always craved any attention or affection from her father and he gives her neither, so now that she has to share this already miniscule spotlight with a bastard daughter? To say she’s having none of it is an understatement.

Still, she knows that in two years time she will be crowned Queen of Hearts (as her mother died when she was ten) and rule alongside her father, so she tolerates Vittiore by avoiding her altogether. Two years later at the annual Croquet Party Dinner someone slips Dinah a dessert plate with the words “EAT ME” drizzled upon it, along with a slip of paper with the name “Faina Baker” written on it. This mysterious note sets in motion Dinah seeking out the terrible truth about Wonderland and her father’s plans for it.

BFF Charm: Eventually

Dinah is so dismissive of poor Vittiore that it was hard for me to have any real BFF feelings toward her. Glimpses of the dreaded Red Queen from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland kept surfacing in my mind; her insane ruthlessness and jealousy. But Dinah is just a kid. A kid who has lost her mother and whose genius younger brother is mentally ill and kept out of sight in his tower, making gorgeous bespoke hats for Wonderland’s wealthiest. Her only true friend are Harris (her tutor/guardian), Emily, (her lady’s maid) and Wardley, her best friend and future Knave of Hearts. Dinah has an open heart for those who are suffering and it’s this that solidified our status as besties.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Unsurprisingly, Dinah doesn’t have that much experience around boys. She leads quite the sheltered palace life (even if that does include mandatory attendance at the annual Execution Day beheadings). She’s convinced that she’s in love with Wardley and I am REALLY WORRIED FOR HER YOU GUYS, because she’s sure that he’s in love with her as well. This is what happens when you only have one friend and no girlfriends. There are a few shared kisses and lots of Wardley-daydreams, all of which are quite swoony even if they are a bit misplaced.

Talky Talk:  Beware the Creeping Dark

Something is rotten in the State of Wonderland, and you feel it slithering upon you like a slowly twisting vine waiting to prick you with its thorns. The pacing is as swift and deft as the impending doom itself. From the creeptastic King’s Adviser, Cheshire, to the looming, web-like prisons of The Black Towers, sinister secrets and danger are lurking everywhere.

Bonus Factor: Wonderland

Iconic characters are reimagined in clever and interesting ways. TweedleDee and TweedleDum? Now snide, gossipy ladies-in-waiting. The White Rabbit? Now a beloved tutor and guardian. And Cheshire isn’t a cat but he is still oh-so-captivating. I think there is more to him than Dinah believes. He strikes me as a chap who knows how to play the Long Game.

Bonus Factor: Courtly Intrigue

Murder, deceit, backstabbing, hidden underground tunnels. I'M HERE FOR ALL OF IT. And yes, I am rather pleased with myself that I got to upload this pic of two MASTER court players, Lord Varys and Lady Oleanna Tyrrell. RESPECT.

Bonus Factor: Frenemies

Even though the relationship between Dinah and Vittiore is pretty much non-existent in this installation, I am pretty sure that the shade Dinah manages to throw at her carries actual physical weight. Still, Vittiore tries her best and could turn out to be an ally that Dinah never knew she needed.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting

This award isn’t even sufficient for how terrible a parent the King of Hearts is. We need The Balon Greyjoy Award for Truly Abusive Parenting here. He ignores his children, and when he’s not actively ignoring them he’s humiliating them. He’s a bloodthirsty beast of a man and I get the feeling that we don’t know the entire backstory of his marriage either. Dinah understanding how vicious her father is does nothing to diminish her need for his approval, and it’s only when she starts to abandon this that she starts to come into her own.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Torture/Physical Abuse

Although the torture scene does add to the storytelling (showing us just how corrupt and evil the King of Hearts actually is) I still think it's appropriate to issue a Trigger Warning here for people who may find this sort of thing traumatizing to read about.

Casting Call:

Mae Whitman as Dinah

Author Colleen Oakes did all the work for me; I found this in her dedications: “Mae Whitman: thank you for being the inspiration behind my Dinah. You are a fierce little thing, and I admire every bit of your work.”

Kit Harrington as Wardley

Because the fellas on Game of Thrones are never going to stop being cast in medieval fantasy roles.

Relationship Status: Team Dinah

As with any other classic story reimagining I went into reading this with a smidge of hesitation, but Oakes has created her own world here, her Wonderland is darker, more cutthroat and somehow more real. As stakes heighten and Dinah starts to realize that everything she once knew isn’t what it seems we see just what she’s made of. It’s a rather slim book, clocking in at just over 200 pages, so I truly hope that the next installment comes to us soon!

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy from SparkPress. I received neither cocktails nor money for this review (dammit!). Queen of Hearts: Vol. 1, The Crown is available now.

Amanda Reid's photo About the Author: Amanda R. is an East Coast girl living in California who will never stop missing a true autumn. She's a bookseller who specializes in kid and teen lit, the leader of FYA Oakland, and bakes a damn fine pie.