Once upon a time a dragon dared to fall in love with the Queen of Hearts. Zelena Hermosa wants only one thing, to be free. But for a morphling like her freedom will never be possible. Bought by a witch as a baby, she's been raised in a household that knows no kindness or love. She's a broken, dirty child the day she meets her prickly little dragon boy. Ragoth Nur, heir to the throne of Drakon, has just stolen a golden apple from Zeus's favored orchard. In order to make sure he doesn't have to face the wrath of the gods (but especially his mom) he runs off to wonderland to enjoy his treat and there bumps into the human girl who will change the course of his life forever. There's so much more to the Queen of Hearts than the stories. So much more than the vindictive woman who shouts, "Off with her head." This is the true story of the woman, the legend, and the myth.
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I adore this series, a nice twist and turn mix of fantasy and fairy tale mixed up just for adults. Jovee Winters has taken her unique view on love, ever after and the struggles to get there, deconstructing the wicked queens to show us their softer underbellies. The Queen of Hearts never really wanted her role, as we meet Zelena, raised without love or kindness, the witch who purchased the infant did so only to use the magic buried within her. And from early days, Zelena has been living a half-life, without love or kindness until she meets Ragoth.
Ragoth is heir to the throne of Drakon, and alternately favored or punished by the gods. After stealing an apple from Zeus’ orchard, he runs off with the treat to wonderland, where he meets a very angry, boastful and dirty Zelena. As children are wont to do, the two reveal their secrets in several successive meetings over the years, and form attachments that are based in friendship and some tender feelings of love. But Ragoth is a temperamental boy, and his reluctance to be steered in productive directions often lead to his changing form into a dragon, all the better to rain fire on that which displeases him. But Zelena is not even remotely cowed by his change, or his anger – in fact the two have a rather prickly relationship that is peppered with boastful dismissals and statements.
Years pass and the two become very different people from what their early connection would indicate. Zelena is cold, calculating and more than self-aggrandizing. Taught by example to become the worst version of herself, when widowed Zelena is barely recognizable as the girl Ragoth once knew. But he’s not had an easy time – since claiming her as a child his lack of another mate and pointless existence without one have made him cynical and untrusting – most of all, he wants to punish Zelena for leaving, for changing, and truly for hurting him.
Can these two find a better version of themselves than the ones that send people running in fear? Winters answers that and many other questions in a story that is engaging, enchanting and full of hope and promise.
Narration for this story is provided by Shiromi Arserio who presented the characters with flair, both as adults and children, with the perfect undertone of hurt, angst, flippancy and daring that was required to capture their personalities as the story moved along. Distinct tones and delivery made distinguishing the characters easy, and the variations in tone revealed moments of reflection, bravado or quiet conversation clearly. Not overworking dialogue, she presented the back and forth with flair, and never missed a beat, keeping the story flowing nicely to the end. A solid performance from this new to me narrator.
I received an audiobook copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.