“Listen to me, Dinah,” he hissed. “Things are going to change for you, child, and you had better be made of stronger stuff than the whiny brat you seem to be now.”
Nope. Didn't happen.
I feel like this book pulled a bait-and-switch on me, and I am so incredibly frustrated right now. It promised me excitement, it intriguingly hinted at things that it never delivered. It wasn't a truly terrible book, but it was a short book, and honestly, I wished it was twice as long because nothing was ever resolved. Plot lines were left completely loose. I was pulled in and pulled along by hints of mysterious places, by mysterious people, by supposedly ambiguous characters, and I was left dangling. I had no resolution by the end of the book. The entire book felt like a prequel. I don't consider the ending to be a cliffhanger, because in order to have a cliffhanger, you had to have a book in the first place. This book did not feel complete.
The book is emotionless. It is dry. It is all telling, no showing. The characters are all grossly caricatured, the bad characters never felt real because there is no dimension and no resolution and no reason at all as to why they acted the way they did. The main character within this book, Dinah, is 17, but I felt like this book read like a Middle Grade novel because it was so completely juvenile, and lacking in realistic sentiment. I was supposed to feel sorry for the main character, downtrodden and not beautiful and hated by her father. I felt no such thing. I couldn't really give two shits about her, to be honest, because more than anything, the main character was a whiny, hypocritical spoiled brat who did nothing.
This book had a very interesting and beautiful version of Wonderland. It is a nontraditional retelling, without an Alice. Do not expect the White Rabbit. Do not expect a Cheshire Cat. Do not expect Tweedledum and Tweedle Dee. You will not get those elements in this book in the manner you would expect, from the original Alice books. That is not to say the setting is bad. Quite the opposite.
The trouble with this book is that the setting is so awesome that an unwary reader might completely miss the fact that there was almost no plot to the book.
The Summary: Usually I write a long-winded summary for the book. I'm not going to this time because nothing happens in the book. In a nutshell, this is the book's plot. Dinah is a Princess in Wonderland, she is unloved by her father, she gets a new sister, she is angry about it, she feels like something bad's going to happen for no fucking reason. Something bad happens. We don't know what the bad thing is, but something bad happens. Something might happen in the next book.
Mostly her days were filled with mind-numbing croquet, etiquette, history, and dancing lessons.
That's pretty accurate.
I have to admit, I was so distracted by the setting that it didn't occur to me until the end that, hey, what the actual fuck, where is the plot? The entire book is composed of Dinah being angry at her father. Dinah hating her father. Dinah thinking about her hot friend, Wardley, Dinah feeling deep within her bones that something dark is going to happen.
“Then help me do this. Wardley, something is amiss. I can feel it. There is a lurking, a presence, a danger, something BAD is happening. And someone is trying to help us. I NEED to speak with Faina Baker, and I need your help to do it.”
What?! Where the fuck did that come from?! Where is the evidence? I'm not going to take Dinah's word for it. She has these nightmares. Guess what? So do I. I regularly dream about zombies. It doesn't mean that there's going to be a zombie apocalypse anytime soon. Give me more to believe in, give me something real. I am not going to believe that there is a dark force at play in the land simply because someone tells me it is going to happen.
There are hints that go nowhere. This is what I refer to as a bait-and-switch. If you are going to repeatly mention something, I expect the book to fucking deliver on it. You cannot mention _____ place as, oh, such a dangerous, mysterious place and then go nowhere with it. You cannot repeatedly mention a dark, mysterious, ambiguous figure, giving us tantalizing clues only to go nowhere with it.
He was never her ally; rather, he was a man who constantly whispered twisted secrets in her father’s ear. The rumors of his extracurricular activities ran rampant in the castle.
You cannot have a villain throughout the book and give no reason to his hatred of the main character.
He grabbed her chin in his hands and held it close, the scent of wine washing over her face from his hot breath. He was shaking her violently now, and she felt her knees begin to buckle.
You cannot introduce a new character without giving us any resolution whatsoever by the end of the book. The book is the most frustrating book I have read in a long time because I still don't know anything by the time I finished the book.
The Writing: I was bothered by the style of the writing, which included CAPS. Emotions are BOLDED like this for emphasis. It pissed me off, which is entirely subjective, but really, the writing style and extreme emphasis did nothing to endear me to this book or its characters. For example:
“Wardley, what are you doing? STOP it! I have to LEAVE!”
“I heard him, my father. I SAW HIM."
Dinah felt her entire body tremble. “NO, NO! I can’t. Absolutely not.”
“Why are you talking to me?” she snapped. “I HATE YOU! Don’t touch me!”
The Main Character: This book is told from the 3rd person POV of Dinah, a Princess of Wonderland, and man, is she fucking annoying. She starts off as the most spoiled 15 year old in the whole world, a Princess, a Queen of Hearts-to-be who acts more like the holy terror that is Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. She starts the book as a scowling 15 year old.
“It will all be alright, child. Trust me. Now put on your brave face. Let me see it.”
And the anger and resentment never stopped. She glowers. She shrieks. She snaps.
“Why are you talking to me?” she snapped. “I HATE YOU! Don’t touch me!”
Dinah does not know how to speak normally, because every other sentence from her mouth is either a command or a whine or a shout.Dinah is constantly angry. She never stops being angry. Fury rises from her at every moment.
Tears gathered at the corner of Vittiore’s eyes. Her unflinching blue gaze unnerved Dinah, who found a fury rising inside.
The slightest perceived insult makes Dinah see red.
Hot rage boiled up inside of her, and Dinah’s mallet dropped from her hand.
The overwhelming emotion in this book is anger, and I felt it towards Dinah, not for her. Yes, Dinah is treated poorly by her father, but Dinah herself is such an intolerable character that I never once felt any sympathy for her.
Dinah has a sister, a beautiful creature. By no fault of her own, the half-sister Vittiore is stunningly beautiful, but a bastard, and loved by the father who so hates Dinah. It doesn't matter, because Vittiore never does anything wrong but look innocent and pretty, yet she is overwhelmingly the target of Dinah's anger for no visible reason at all. Dinah calls Vittiore so many names, like "bastard child."
She’s a bastard child, unworthy of a minute of his time. I hope she dies of wheezing fever."
Not to mention a wench.
“Is a lovely, innocent girl,” finished Harris.
Dinah shot him a nasty look, “—is a venomous wench snake,” she replied. “The very sight of her makes me ill.
Everything Vittiore does makes Dinah hate her more---no matter how innocuous, and I just wanted to wring Dinah's neck, or rather, off with her head!
The Setting: The one good thing about the book. I found it really creative, it is based on Wonderland, but without the traditional characters. There is a King of Hearts, and the Cards are actually various ranks of soldiers.
There were four divisions of the men called Cards, each serving their purpose to the kingdom. Heart Cards, handsome and skilled men uniformed in red and white, protected the royal family and the palace.
Club Cards, Spades, etc. Wonderland itself is beautifully described, and we get to see croquet games with all the birds running around. There are descriptions of beautiful court clothes.
The gown was lovely in a severe way, with hundreds of gray fabrics mingling together in an elaborate tweed. A large red heart arched over her shoulders and down the back of the dress, its top folds meeting at her collarbone. White ribbons ran up and down the heart in delicate ruffles. Bright-raspberry hearts dotted the full hem of the dress.
If you just want to read about a pretty version of Wonderland, this book might do it. Just don't expect the usual characters.
The Villains: This book is simply unbelievable, because the bad guys are just bad for the sake of being bad. For example, her villified father. The cruel, evil King of Hearts who has despised Dinah since the day she was born. He constantly belittles her. He constantly seeks to humiliate her. It numbs me, because his hate felt incredibly gratuitous, there only to elicit sympathy for Dinah, and without a reason at all.
“DINAH!” A loud voice bellowed from the throne, and Dinah felt a tiny trickle of urine roll down her leg under her dress. She had been lost in thought, standing midaisle. Dinah bowed her head. “Get up here. Now.”
The Romance: Thankfully light, but completely without any emotion. Dinah's romance is limited to wishful thinking. She is going to be the Queen one day, so there is no question she can, and will get the guy of her dreams.
Wardley was the King’s favorite of all his young Cards, and maybe someday, Dinah hoped, something much more. She longed to make Wardley her husband one day, which would make him the King of Hearts beside her.
That's pretty much the limitation of their romance. She holds the cards (no pun intended). Wardley is not a romantic interest. He is a pawn to be used as Dinah sees fit.
Her lips trembled. “Wardley, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. . . .”
“No you didn’t,” Wardley snapped. “But I tried to tell you. No one can tell you anything, Dinah, not ever, because you’re the Princess and you do what you want. You’re not unlike your father that way.”