Queen of Hearts, Volume Two: The Wonder - Colleen Oakes

This review does contain spoilers for book one: The Crown.

The Wonder isn't a perfect sequel, but it's pretty darn wonderful. Oakes has continued to build one of the most unique and vivid worlds I've come across in a fairy tale retelling. 

On that score, I wish there had been a bit more done with the Yurkei. After a world of pink snow, color changing flower oceans, and maddening roots, it was a little disappointing that their society is your standard nomadic horse warriors. There was the suspended tent and the mushrooms, but they were almost more confusing as I didn't get how the horses and the birds fit together. Their inclusion was great, though, and the encounter and time with them was very important, so I'm happy to have met Mundoo and Bah-Kan, even if it could have gone farther.

Undeniably darker than The Crown, the remainder of the world building is devoted to the Twisted Wood, full of snakes, bears, and poisoned berries, and the Darklands, a swamp that you really don't want to experience. There's a scene in a tunnel that is creepy and reminiscent of the Black Tower. But the real threat continues to be the King of Hearts. Dinah's flight hasn't just hurt his plans, but his pride, and he will never stop hunting her.

There's good character development for Dinah, some coming from memories of her mother, who we really got no information on in the first book. There's also a big moment where she accepts and embraces her destiny, which was excellent. She still has a tendency towards selfishness and her rages sometimes feel unprovoked. I could have lived without the scene by the lake, frankly. It felt like a step back.

I think the best part of the novel is the newest character, Sir Gorrann, the gruff old Spade set on vengeance. Dinah desperately needed someone to stand up to her and a reminder that she'd been unusually blessed, (up until the whole "framed for murder" thing.) The evolution of their dynamic over the course of the story was undoubtedly a highlight and a big part of Dinah's growth. 

The Wonder continues this series in a big way. It's tense and has a surprising amount of heart. There's a massive, game-changing twist. The references to the original Wonderland are well integrated with the new world in a way that keeps it fresh. It does feel a bit like a bridge between the first and last books and pacing wasn't always smooth, but in all, a short novel I'm happy to recommend.