A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The story name-checks any number of characters in the Alice in Wonderland canon, but (starting with Dinah, who's anything but Alice's sweet pet cat here) the characters so referenced have only a glancing resemblance to the originals and inhabit a far more horrific universe.
There's precious little of a positive nature here. Some of the characters share loving bonds or friendship or show courage. It often does little good but rather serves as a prelude to still more wanton murder, torture, and treachery.
Positive Role Models
The entire Wonderland environment, with plotting, court intrigue, literal and figurative backstabbing, torture, dismemberment, and beheadings as regular features, is so toxic that it's hard for any goodness or innocence to survive. Struggling to survive in this environment where she's lived since birth, in a privileged but perilous position, Dinah longs for her murderous father's love and swoons for her childhood BFF -- but doesn't hesitate to put him in danger for her own ends. She hopes to be a better queen than her father is a king and sometimes shows kindness to others. She's also very full of her own position as future queen and behaves meanly toward the bastard sister who suddenly appears at the palace. Innocent children and devoted servants share a sweet bond, which ends in treachery and carnage.
Violence & Scariness
Brutality, bloodshed, and treachery are constants here, and numerous characters (including Dinah) kill others. The king strikes his daughter, knocking her to the ground. Torture (including an evil plant that sends its toxic tentacles into its victims), dismemberment, imprisonment, and public executions are regular features of life in Wonderland, with public beheadings a particular high point in the kingdom's life; heads literally roll. Dinah's loyal servants warn her that some of her thoughts, voiced aloud, will get her beheaded. Guards joke about having sex with female prisoners "to take their minds off the torture." A child and his loyal servants are murdered. Assorted deadly monsters populate the kingdom, notably giant horse-like creatures with blade-encrusted hooves.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Dinah's in love with Wardley, her best friend from childhood, and kisses him on a few occasions. It's not clear whether he returns her feelings, but he's brave and loyal. In one scene, he and Dinah fake loud sex to fool their guards. Her lecherous father's infidelity to her mother has resulted in a bastard child. There are strong hints that Dinah's father doesn't think Dinah is his biological child.
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No profanity. Characters exclaim "oh gods" and the like, and the term "bastard" is used to describe the king's recently discovered daughter. Brief reference to pee.
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Products & Purchases
The ending sets up further adventures in upcoming series installments.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Some references to public drunkenness as part of festivals.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Queen of Hearts, the first installment in a new series by Colleen Oakes, again shows the author's taste for inventing lurid, violent, dark alternatives to beloved children's stories, as she did in her previous Wendy Darling series. Here, the Alice in Wonderland character best known for shouting "Off with their heads!" is a teen monarch-in-waiting in a surreal kingdom (croquet games, birds running amok, and other baggage from the original story) steeped in murderous intrigue and marital infidelity. Beheadings, dismemberments, stabbings, torture, imprisonments, and other violence are constant. While some villain-origin tales evoke empathy and offer insight into their central character, Princess Dinah's occasional relatable moments (her fondness for her mad brother, her longing for her unloving father's approval, her struggles to stay alive) aren't enough to set her apart from the horrific world into which she was born.
Is It Any Good?
Between the unrelieved gore, dismemberment, torture, and treachery, as well as the rising body count and lack of likability in any of the characters, there's not much to recommend here. Still, author Colleen Oakes has built a fan base with her previous dragging of beloved childhood tales to the evil side, and those readers may find these dark doings intriguing.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.