New Read: Queen of Hearts, Volume 3: War of the Cards

I really can’t believe that it was back in 2014 that I read the fantastic Volume 1: The Crown and Volume 2: The Wonder of Colleen Oakes’ twisted YA Wonderland re-imagining, Queen of Hearts. Finally, three years, a new publisher and republications of the earlier two volumes later, we have the concluding part, Volume 3: War of the Cards! (Warning: this will probably contain spoilers for the earlier volumes).

In this final volume, we re-join Dinah, the exiled princess of Wonderland, as she marches her fractious army of Spades and Yurkei warriors on to the palace of Wonderland. Where her father, the cruel King of Hearts, and his deadly army of Hearts await for a final, bloody showdown. Although gripped by fear and doubt, Dinah is propelled on by a burning rage that seeks revenge for the brutal murder of her beloved brother Charles and to claim the throne which is rightfully hers. But an inner battle rages within Dinah too – with such all-consuming love and fury can she be the ruler the kingdom needs? Or will her tumultuous nature bring Wonderland to its knees?

Through-out this trilogy, I have been fascinated to watch our young, head-strong and rebellious protagonist grow and survive through so many harsh trials and tribulations. Now she is a strong, brave woman with such high expectations on her shoulders to be a strong, wise and victorious leader. I couldn’t help but to continue to pity her in this book. However Dinah is an imperfect character. In particular, in this conclusion, there is one absolutely horrific incident, which, while I could sympathise with how she came to feel so hurt and angry, I could never condone her terrible reaction. If only she could hear me shouting stop!

Although if Dinah didn’t have a darker side to her, she wouldn’t be a very convincing Queen of Hearts now would she! And I do have to praise Oakes’ better fleshed out and more realistic take on the quintessential characters of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, such as Cheshire, the royal advisor; the Caterpillar, a Yurkei witch-doctor and Charles, the Mad Hatter. Also I loved Oakes’ clever twists on the classic elements of the cards, magical food and the Jabberwocky. Even though I went into this knowing what should become of Dinah, Oakes was still able to generate tension, throw me some real curve balls and leave me with a hopeful note.

All in all, I thought War of the Cards was a fitting and very satisfying ending to this clever and refreshing re-imagining of Wonderland. It was worth the wait! After enjoying this and her Wendy Darling series, I am interested to see what Oakes will do next. Great read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any other re-imaginings of classic tales?

I am also including this book towards my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge, as a title with a shape in it. (1/5)


Tough Travels: Mothers

Tough Travels is a monthly meme hosted by The Fantasy Hive, which, inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, spotlights each month a different fantasy trope for us to compile lists and have fun with. Last month we discussed APPRENTICES. This month’s topic is:


Sadly, much of the fantasy I love has dead or absentee mothers, but with a good think I thought of these ladies, which represent some of the best and worst mothers of fantasyland:

  • Molly Weasley – First, from J K Rowling’s magical Harry Potter series, we have one of the best mothers of fantasyland: Molly Weasley, the small but big-hearted matriarch of a large family. What they may lack in money, she makes up for with love and good food… oh and knitted goods! Even with seven of her own children she takes the orphaned Harry under her wing.
  • Cersei Lannister – In stark-contrast to Molly, I have chosen Cersei Lannister, the beautiful but cold Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, from George R R Martin’s epic Song of Ice and Fire. While she does fiercely love her three children (who are all products of adulterous incest I may add) her scheming, blind ambition and ruthless actions sees them growing up weak and twisted.
  • Catelyn Stark – To balance things out for George R R Martin’s epic Song of Ice and Fire series, we have Catelyn Stark, who is a loving and dutiful mother to her five children. While I don’t always like her, I have to admit she is one fierce ‘momma bear’ – quite literally fighting off a dagger with her bare hands to protect her young son Bran.
  • Mrs Coulter – Next from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy we have the very beautiful Marisa Coulter, a well-educated, manipulative and ruthless woman, who in her pursuit of power has left behind the love of her life and her own daughter. While she does try to make amends it is all too little, too late really.
  • Natalie Prior – Finally I think we need another good mum, so here we have Natalie Prior from Veronica Roth’s young adult Divergent series. She is the patient, loving mother of Tris and Caleb Prior, who it turns out can also kick-ass and bravely sacrifices all for her children.

Do you like my choices? Which mothers would you have chosen? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

Tough Travelling is going on a hiatus for a while, so I’m sorry there will be no post next month to look forward too.

New Read: The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King

In the bitterly cold and dreary weather of February, I found myself needing to escape to another world, so I picked up The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King by Michael R. Miller; which had sadly lay in my Kindle’s to-be-read folder for too long! And It was only as I neared the end and no conclusion seemed forthcoming that I realised it is the first book in a planned fantasy trilogy.

Immediately, we are thrown into the action of the dark, fantastical realm of Tenalp; as the last of the proud race of dragons is forced to flee their ancestral home of Aurisha, by a never-ending hoard of mindless demons sent by the dark lord, Rectar and the traitorous wizard, Castallan. During the bloody fighting, King Draconess is killed and Prince Danuir is mortally wounded. Fearing they will be lost without an heir to the powerful Dragon’s Blade, the last good wizard, Brackendon is forced to perform a dangerous rebirthing spell upon Danuir, which leaves him a helpless babe.

I know what your thinking… a dark lord and a traitorous wizard, isn’t that The Lord of the Rings? Initially, I have to admit I thought the same thing, but reading on I discovered some interesting differences to enjoy about Miller’s new creation too. The biggest being the dragons themselves. These are not the traditional scaly, winged, fire breathing beasts you might have imagined. Instead many generations ago, with the help of magic, the dragons of this world shed their beastly form for a human-like one, whilst retaining their impressive strength and longer life spans.

Meanwhile twenty years pass and with no knowledge of his true heritage, Danuir grows up hidden away in a human village in the Boreac Mountains. However his life is turned upside down when he comes of age and the Dragon’s Blade magically presents itself to him. With it comes a bewildering array of new strength, powers and memories. Now as the demonic forces are poised to finally destroy the beleaguered alliance of humans, fairies and dragons for good, all hopes rest upon his young shoulders, as the long-awaited king who can wield the legendary Dragon’s Blade.

All the while I just had to feel for poor Danuir, who is just trying to figure out exactly who he is! Once an arrogant prince full of scorn and pride, the kinder and humble rebirthed Danuir has a lot to come to terms with. Especially when unnerving memories start to resurface and old prejudices frustratingly erupt in moments of anger, which leads to uneasy relations with his human friends. Towards the end of the book though, Danuir does seem to be getting a better handle on things – balancing the strength and authority of his former self, with the fairness and humility he has now.

During this dangerous adventure out of the Boreac Mountains, through the Cairlav Marshes and to the fairy homeland of Val’Tarra, Danuir is helped and joined by an eclectic collection of characters. Including old friends, the wizard, Brackendon and human hunters Cosmo, Ballack and Garon and new acquaintances Blaine, the Guardian of Tenalp; Kymethra, a shape-shifting witch and a mysterious young woman, Cassandra. While I thought all of these characters were good, I didn’t always find Cassandra that believable. However she does have many secrets and twists to come that explain some of her behaviour and actions.

Overall, I thought The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King was a fun, fantasy adventure which certainly helped me to escape from miserable February! My only problem was at the end I wanted to know what happens next! Good read.

Thank you to the author for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Can you recommend any similar fantasy?

Tough Travels: Apprentices

Tough Travels is a monthly meme hosted by The Fantasy Hive, which, inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, spotlights each month a different fantasy trope for us to compile lists and have fun with. Last month we discussed SHAPESHIFTERS. This month’s topic is:


‘Apprentices are people who are training for a trade or skill, which means they are usually quite young and bad at what they do. Most of the time they are like nurses during an operation, being there only to hand the master his tool. They seem to have to do this for a good many years before they get to do anything more interesting, and it is therefore not surprising that some of them get restless and either try to do the interesting stuff themselves or simply run away. The Rules state that if an Apprentice tries to do the interesting stuff on their own it will blow up in their face. If they run away, they will learn all sorts of things very quickly and also probably prove to be the MISSING HEIR to a Kingdom.’

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

You would think with apprentices being many a fantasy story’s bread and butter this would an easy topic, but clearly I am not reading the right fantasy books! However after a good, hard think I thought of these (a cheeky science-fiction choice may have been snuck in too… ):

  • Mort – First up from Terry Pratchett’s fourth fantastical Discworld novel we have the titular character Mort. A thin, lanky, uncoordinated teenager, who is taken by his exasperated father to a hiring fair. When who should turn up… but Death – offering an apprenticeship in ushering souls into the next world!
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Disney’s magical animated short, that was included in the classic Fantasia collection, sees Mickey Mouse making his come back as the lazy, hapless titular ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’. Who, when sick of doing his chores, decides to bewitch a broom, which has disastrous consequences!
  • Septimus Heap – Next we have Septimus Heap who is the titular character from Angie Sage’s seven novel series (which I am yet to finish). As the seventh son of a seventh son, he has the potential for great magical powers, which he will have to study for seven years and a day (precisely) for with an ExtraOrdinary Wizard.
  • Arya Stark – Now from George R R Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire series we have Arya, who is the spirited youngest daughter of Lord Eddard Stark. After the bitter loss of her family, the revenge-fuelled Arya travels to the city of Braavos to be initiated and trained by the Faceless Men: a religious group of assassins.
  • Anakin Skywalker – Last, but certainly not least, we have the young Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars films. Believed to be the ‘Chosen One’ by Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin is apprenticed to Obi Wan Kenobi to become a Jedi knight, against the wishes of some the Jedi Council. I think most of us know how this turns out… !!

Do you like my choices? Which apprentices would you have chosen? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

Come back next month for: MOTHERS.

Tough Travels: Shapeshifters

Tough Travels is a monthly meme hosted by The Fantasy Hive, which, inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, spotlights each month a different fantasy trope for us to compile lists and have fun with. Last month we discussed ELVES. This month’s topic is:


‘Shapeshifting is frequent among both WERES and MAGIC USERS. The usual form taken is that of a wolf, but lions, eagles, serpents, owls and cats are common too. In all cases the Rule is that the Shapeshifter cannot stay too long in ANIMAL form without actually becoming that animal and losing touch with her/his human thoughts.’

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

As soon as I saw this topic my mind was racing with lots of possible were and magic shapeshifters from many different books. So this is not a Tolkien fest like my last post on elves, although I must admit my first thought was of Middle Earth:

  • Beorn – First up, from The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien, we have Beorn, the last Skin-changer. He lives an isolated life in the northern Anduin valley, caring for his animals by day as a tall, powerful man and patrolling the woods for goblins by night as a giant, black bear. That peace is shattered with the arrival of Gandalf, a hobbit and a band of troublesome dwarves!
  • Remus Lupin – Next we have my favourite Hogwart’s professor, Remus Lupin, from J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Since childhood Remus has been afflicted with lycanthropy, but he has not let it hold him back and with the support of his best friends, James Potter and Sirius Black, he became a good, clever wizard and professor.
  • Count Dracula – Now not such a good guy is Count Dracula, the titular character of Bram Stoker’s classic novel. If being an ancient, powerful vampire wasn’t bad enough, he can also transform into a large dog, a wolf, a bat and a fog or mist! There really is nowhere to hide, although if he really looked like Gary Oldman… I may not resist too hard 😉
  • Mystique – Another shady character I’ve chosen is Mystique from the X-Men comics and films. Mystique (born Raven Darkholme) is a powerful mutant with superhuman flexibility and agility, and the ability to alter the formation of her cells to look like practically anyone! She uses her abilities ruthlessly to exact her revenge on her perceived enemies of mutants.
  • Animagus – Finally we return to J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series for an Animagus: a witch or wizard who has learned the skill to morph into an animal at will. The training process is long and arduous, and potentially very dangerous. Impressively, school friends James Potter (stag), Sirius Black (dog) and Peter Pettigrew (rat) secretly became Animagi to support Remus Lupin during his uncontrollable, full moon transformations.

Do you like my choices? Which shapeshifters would you have chosen? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

Come back next month for: APPRENTICES.

Re-Read: The Amber Spyglass

Over the Christmas period, I enjoyed a comforting re-read of The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman, the final book in Pullman’s ever popular His Dark Materials trilogy. (There is a considerable chance of spoilers in this post, so if you are unfamiliar with this series I recommend instead that you read my thoughts on the first book: Northern Lights).

Now Will is the bearer of ‘The Subtle Knife’, his father’s dying wish was for him to deliver this powerful and dangerous weapon to Lord Asriel to help in his war against ‘The Authority’. But Will couldn’t possibly think of going until he has found and rescued Lyra, from those who wish to stop her fulfilling her destiny, as Will and Lyra’s lives, loves, and fates are now irrevocably joined. Together they have their own battles to fight and inevitable journey to go on, that will even take them to the world of the dead…

And it was another real joy to follow the wild, spontaneous Lyra and the practical, selfless Will on their adventures. For me they truly are the best partners in crime and in this final book it is wonderful to see their friendship blossom into something deeper and richer. However this final book also has a lot more characters and threads, all of which have their own crucial part to play, going on at once, including: Lord Asriel, Mrs Coulter, the witch Serafina Pekkala, the armoured bear Iorek Byrnison, Dr Mary Malone and the ‘Mulefa’, Father Gomez, the angels Balthamos and Baruch and the dead…

Boy, I had forgotten just how much Pullman had stuffed into this book! On the positive side this makes for an intriguing, twisting tale which should really make for a rollercoaster ride but for me it doesn’t, and that is because many of these characters and threads have never been mentioned let alone explored in any detail in the previous books. Which for me, especially first time around, meant whole slow sections that felt like giant information dumps! Having said that though this time, being my second read, I did find it a lot easier to take everything in. However my true enjoyment still came from the simpler, central thread following Lyra and Will.

Then we come to the final epic showdown between the armies of Lord Asriel and ‘The Authority’, and Lyra facing temptation and her prophesied destiny. Through out which Pullman showcases his Atheism: making it quite clear a world, or in this case worlds, without God and/or organised religion is a better one. Now I am a practicing Christian and I have to admit there was nothing that particularly bothered or upset me about all this – if Pullman wants to be an Atheist that is up to him and his opinions won’t affect my faith. On the other hand though, I can see how people could be bothered, upset or angered by some of his views shared in this book.

So overall The Amber Spyglass is still not my favourite, however I did find it easier second time around and it is still a fitting, bitter-sweet ending to a wonderful trilogy. While I didn’t plan it, this re-read has also aligned with the release of Pullman’s sequel The Book of Dust, which I now look forward to reading! Good read.

Have you read this? Have you read the new sequel, The Book of Dust?

Tough Travels: Elves

Tough Travels is a monthly meme, re-ignited by Fantasy Faction and now hosted by The Fantasy Hive, which, inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, spotlights each month a different fantasy trope for us to compile lists and have fun with. Last month we discussed MENTORS. This month’s topic is:


‘Elves claim to have been the first people in Fantasyland. They are called the Elder Race. They did not, they claim, evolve like humans, but sprang into being just as they are now.

The Elves’ claim is borne out to some extent by the well attested fact that their flesh is less gross and substantial than that of humans.

‘In looks, Elves are taller and more slender than any humans, and very beautiful. Most of them appear youthful.

All Elves feel themselves superior to humans and make it very clear that they do not operate by human rules. This is true, in that many of them can do some MAGIC.

If you meet Elves, expect to have to listen for hours while they tell you how great numbers of their race have become so wearied with the thinning of the old golden wonders that they have all departed, departed into the West.

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

I apologise in advance that this is going to be a bit of a Tolkien fest! Due to the fact that I found it almost impossible to think of elves that weren’t from The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. So lets explore the elves of Middle-Earth, as well as two non-Tolkien elves I managed think of, for some sort of balance:

  • Legolas – First up from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings we have Legolas, who is a prince of the Woodland Realm of Mirkwood. Like many of his brethren he is tall and fair, with keen eyesight and hearing. He is also a master bowman. But rather against Woodland Elf nature he travels widely and becomes good friends with the Dwarf Gimli.
  • Galadriel – Second from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings we have Galadriel, who alongside her husband, Lord Celeborn, rules over and protects The Golden Wood. Like Legolas she is tall and fair, but she far surpasses nearly all her other brethren in age, beauty, wisdom and power. Basically she is brilliant…a bit scary… but brilliant!
  • Elrond – Next from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit we have Elrond the Half-Elven Lord of Rivendell, which is a hidden river valley located at the base of the Misty Mountains; known to many a weary traveller as ‘The Last Friendly Home’. Elrond is tall and dark, and is of a great age and wisdom. Unlike the Woodland Elves, Elrond and his people are far more welcoming of others races.
  • Rivendell Half-Elves – My final Tolkien entry in this list, has to be the beautiful, merry Half-Elves of Rivendell; who little Bilbo fell so in love with in The Hobbit, as they played music, sang and danced, and swam in the streams and pools. If I could go to Middle-Earth that’s where I would go. Later, in The Lord of the Rings, all the elves get a bit too serious and melancholy for my liking.
  • Dobby – Now from J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series I bring you a very different type of elf: Dobby the House-Elf! Breaking elf conventions completely, Dobby and his fellow House-Elves are small, wizened magical creatures, who work devotedly for their masters. Poor Dobby was in servitude to the cruel Malfoy family until Harry helped to free him.
  • Prince Nuada – Finally this list wouldn’t be complete without a bad elf, so here is Prince Nuada from Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). Nuada’s race, modelled on the Daoine Sidhe from the Hellboy comics, are tall, very pale and unusually striking. An ancient, once proud people forced underground by the greedy human race, for which Nuada seeks revenge.

Do you like my choices? Can you think of more elves I should check out? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

 Come back next month for: SHAPESHIFTERS.