Review: Playing Hearts by W.R. Gingell @WRGingell

It begins the way it has always begun: with a card on Mabel’s pillow. But Mabel has been in Underland—or Wonderland—before, and she’s not so anxious to go back. No matter what name it takes, Underland is always bizarre, always mad, always dangerous.

There’s the Queen of Hearts, terrifying, powerful, and possibly insane.

There’s Hatter, purple-eyed and undoubtedly mad.

March Hare has always been one sandwich short of a picnic, and Sir Blanc is missing his wits.

And then there’s Jack. Jack the aristocratic son of the Queen. Not quite mad, but not far off. Disinclined to help anyone but himself. A liar.

And, thanks to an ancient ceremony performed by the Queen, Mabel’s fiance.

Fall into the rabbit hole with Mabel as she climbs through tea-pots, battles the Jabberwock, and attempts to overthrow the Queen of Hearts herself.

Don’t lose your head.

And whatever you do, don’t be late…

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

5 out of 5 stars

My favorite Wonderland retelling of all time. That includes Tim Burton’s version. I’m sorry, but you just can’t beat a sweet romance paired with intrigue, mystery, a political power struggle, and riddles that mess with your head. This book was amazing and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write the review.

The plot:

This was an interesting twist on the “destined hero” premise. Wonderland’s logic is not necessarily our logic (duh), but having a reluctant hero who’s not running away from her destiny was a little different. This novella takes us through Mabel’s visits to Wonderland starting at age four up to what is presumably her last visit at seventeen.

That story structure means that there was a bit more drag than I generally like, but it made sense. Ms. Gingell’s stories seem to build momentum gradually, then bowl you over with it. That’s what I encountered here, but it was so worth it!

The characters:

Mabel is a foster care kid who’s has the constant companionship of the Hatter and Wonderland since the age of four. While I thought the psychological repercussions of foster care were downplayed, the fact Wonderland has been her only consistent relationship makes her decisions more rational. Nonetheless, she’s independent, very well-adjusted, and ready to kick ass when ass must needs be kicked. Mabel has all the YA heroine traits I love, while still being her own person. In other words, perfect.

Jack, the Hatter, the Queen, and a handful of characters we’d expect appear. Come to think of it, I don’t think there are any non-Wonderland characters who appear at all. The nature of Wonderland and the risks that anyone could be watching make it rare anyone can say what they truly mean. That made for complicated interactions with most the information to be read between the lines. Relationships, loyalties, and motives remain a mystery until the very end and I LOVED IT.

I’m sorry this isn’t part of a series, but glad at the same time. Mabel, Jack, and the Hatter deserve some happiness. It’s a lovely, exciting read with low commitment (being a standalone novella and all). It’s a fantastic read and I hope you’ll give it a shot!

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