Written by Karen Olson Smith
“Queen of Hearts” by Colleen Oakes includes a tangy mix of personalities, from the likes of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to those of the theater production of Wicked. Sprinkled in are shadowy semblances of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” along with noticeable flavors of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”
As the story unfolds, the evil rising in the book’s setting of Wonderland captivates the reader as strongly as the story’s protagonist, Dinah, is held captive by her early lack of confidence. Dinah is introduced as a clumsy and timid child, one who fears her father, the mighty King of Hearts who feels nothing but disdain toward his daughter. Dinah longs for his love and attention. Her world begins to further unravel when her father introduces another daughter. Dinah’s newly discovered half-sibling, Vittiore, is a golden child yet a person Dinah despises, not only because Vittiore has her father’s favor, but because her presence reveals her father’s betrayal of her mother years earlier. Dinah is next in line for her father’s throne since the seat was left vacant by her mother’s death and because her older brother, Charles, is “mad as a hatter,” lost in his own reality. Soon, mysterious happenings relating to Dinah’s father, and clues of such, grow her confidence to act as she comes to understand that her father is an evil man who is hungry for power. Dinah quickly realizes that she must flee the kingdom in order to survive her father’s murderous intent. Of course, Oakes gives Dinah has a love interest. Wardley is a handsome young man, a fearsome warrior who is training to be the next commander of the Heart Cards assigned to protect the royal family and palace. Dinah has long adored Wardley, but will he return Dinah’s affections? Readers are left to ponder.
The book is a relatively easy read, particularly due to its less than complex character development. It is more geared toward young adults than those of us who are more seasoned with age. The adjectives used to present characters, namely Cheshire who “slithered” into the storyline, give away too soon the essence and intent of their roles in the story. Perhaps it is a ploy, being the first book in the saga. Maybe Oakes wants to provoke instant emotion in readers. At the story’s onset, it is easy to ascertain who is good versus who is evil. Still, character roles get better developed as the storyline builds, and readers may begin to question what they feel to be true as they read on. Dinah, for example, might not win over many readers at her introduction, but she becomes more relatable and likeable as her character develops. Her frailties and emotions eventually help readers feel compelled to root for her.
The plot includes twists and turns, some more transparent than not. There are also some dark moments that leave a marked impression. For instance, Oakes succeeds in relating that readers should feel very afraid of the tormenting slime that oozes within the Black Towers, where criminals are imprisoned. And, let me tell you, you will not find equine “hornhooves” depicted on any carrousel ride. Oakes dark writing style is most captivating, as she does well to create vivid imagery.
One questionable facet concerns the time lapses between major happenings within the plot. One moment we are here, then months pass and we are unexpectedly in a new time and place. Oakes writes that, “Six months had passed since that dark night…,” and, “Exactly one month since her whispered conversation in the Box…,” and, “In the two months that had passed since her journey into Wonderland’s depraved prison system….” In instances such as these, the reader is left to wonder what happened in the meanwhile. Brief recaps of interpersonal workings and happenings would help fill these voids.
The sequel to “Queen of Hearts” is “Blood of Wonderland,” and a selection of its pages is included at the end of the first book. (The third book in the series is called "War of the Cards.") “Queen of Hearts” is gripping enough that those selected pages are worth reading if only for a hint at if Dinah triumphs over the darkness and cruelty of her world, the real and imaged visions that torment her and the mysteries that we learn are ultimately intertwined. I look forward to reading the next in the series. As with all memorable fairy tales, I am hoping for a happy ending.
Title: Queen of Hearts (Queen of Hearts Saga)
Author: Colleen Oakes
Publication date: May 3, 2016
Page count: 306
List price: $17.99
Awards: 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Young Adult
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