by Marissa Meyer
Published on November 8, 2016 by Feiwel & Friends
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.
Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the yet-unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with delectable pastries and confections. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next Queen.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the king's marriage proposal, she meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship.
Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.
There’s so much about Heartless that I wanted to love. For starters, Marissa Meyer is one of my favorite authors with her Lunar Chronicles series so this standalone was at the top of my 20167 anticipated titles list. I also have an obsession with Wonderland and villains — who better to have an origin story than the Queen of Hearts herself? Everything about this book lined up for what I hoped would be a fabulous edition to Meyer’s work.
Yet while I did enjoy it…eventually…Heartless wasn’t quite the tale I was hoping for.
To start, I think my expectations were too high. After the Lunar Chronicles I’d seen what amazing work this author could create so I had higher expectations for this one as well. Plus, I’ve seen Wonderland and Alice and even the Queen of Hearts done near to death so it takes more to stand out with this particular re-telling.
Catherine is the daughter of a marquess and being pursued by the King of Hearts, but only wants to open a bakery with her maid and friend. Then she meets Jest, the king’s new joker, and the chemistry and intrigue is immediate. Theirs is a romance that must face more than a king, but darker plots at work.
In all honesty, I liked Catherine as a protagonist. She had her dreams but was conflicted with a want to please her parents and meet the societal expectations pressing down on her, as many of us are (though not necessarily as part of a noble court). And her feelings toward Jest grow into something genuine. But at the end, as we expected her to take some turn for the worse with her being the future Queen of Hearts, I was disappointed with the expediency that she fell into the role of a terrorizing monarch. While it was bound to happen she shifted in a matter of pages.
As for the rest of the cast, I won’t go into detail on everyone as this is a HUGE group of characters, many which are familiar to Wonderland fans. Jest the Joker is both infuriating and interesting, a puzzle to be solved. I loved how he brought out Cath’s dreamer side, the part of her that could be more than what her parents wanted her to be. In that they balanced each other well. The Mad Hatter appears in the form of Hatta who is a little dark, a little troublesome, and well on his way to the famous insanity. The Cheshire Cat also makes an appearance throughout with his tell-tale gossiping and knack for appearing at all the wrong moments (he might be my favorite Wonderland character of all time so glad to see he played a role).
The characters worked well to tell Cath’s story and her rise to the throne. Meyer builds an intricate world of impossibilities and familiar faces, tying in stories outside the Wonderland realm that I wouldn’t have thought would work so well combined. Every intricacy of this story is unfolded in quite a deliberate manner and while that was beautiful and skilled, the story suffered at times. I couldn’t fall into this realm of tea parties and riddles. As a standalone, Heartless needed more detail than a book in a series, for example, as the stage had to be set for the end. And Meyer did that wonderfully. But I struggled to feel the hook to keep reading and did so more out of obligation than true desire for a good chuck of the book.
I’d also say that if I hadn’t been as familiar with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven (yes, hint hint), I wouldn’t have caught nearly as many of the references. You can certainly read this without those but you won’t pick up on how detailed Meyer made this world.
This book was, by no means, bad in any sense of the word but for me, it fell flat. I never got that feeling of amazement and excitement to continue and I blame myself in part for that. I expected a lot from this book and perhaps it was too much. However, I would certainly recommend it regardless to anyone looking for a good spin on Wonderland and in need to a backstory for the infamous Queen of Hearts.