Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Digital Audiobook narrated by Rebecca Soler
Published by Feiwel & Friends on November 8, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Retellings, Romance, Young Adult
Length: 453 pages or 14 hours, 34 minutes
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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 unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.
Then Cath 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.
As many of my consistent followers know, I am constantly on the hunt for a good Alice in Wonderland retelling. I’ve tried numerous books with varying levels of success – books that are good stories but not really retellings, books that were fascinating but didn’t follow through, books that had an interesting take on Wonderland but weren’t really my cup of tea because of the writing style or the terrible, horrible plot and characters. As Alice in Wonderland is a popular retelling, I’m far from having read them all and I know there are good ones out there. I keep trying and trying and trying.
Books like Heartless are why I keep trying, loves, because Heartless was nearly perfect.
The Alice in Wonderland geek inside of me is overflowing with joy about this book. Marissa Meyer has included everything – and I do mean everything. We have the two different lands on either side of the looking glass: Hearts and Chess. This is perfectly aligned with the twin stories (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass). She’s pulled bits and pieces from the books as well as friendly nods to the films (I don’t quite recall Hatter’s hat being plum purple in anything other than Disney’s 2010 film). She’s gathered up not only old favorites like Hatter and the Cheshire cat, but we even have the Mock Turtle and lobster quadrille. Every few pages, there’s a polite nod to Lewis Carroll’s work… and that’s precisely as a retelling should be. Retellings should honor the original work, not just steal the plot and characters.
But if Alice itself wasn’t enough, Marissa Meyer’s gone the extra mile and woven in bits and pieces from other renown literature. My personal favorite nod is Raven, who often quotes “Nevermore.” I adore Edgar Allan Poe – his poetry in particular – and shrieked with delight at this inclusion. Whether it was Alice or Poe or something else, I found myself spouting bits and pieces of the story that I knew as it was woven in, delighted that I knew why all the sisters’ drawings began with the letter “M”. You can tell Marissa Meyer did her homework on this one and was very careful to include everything, but she was subtle about it.
So that covers the writing, which I am totally impressed with, but lets talk about the story for a second. This isn’t anything groundbreaking. At it’s heart, it’s a star-crossed love story, and a love triangle at that. I think this is done rather well – I despise love stories where the protagonist is pining after both love interests, and that doesn’t happen here. Cath waffles between her heart and her mind, and that’s a good internal struggle subplot. There’s really no question about who Cath prefers, and it’s good there’s a lot of other stuff going on here, because if this book relied on the love story, it would be pretty boring.
In addition to the love story, there’s a villain origin story (why aren’t there more of these?) and basic hero rising plot line. Except, of course, this is a villain origin story, so you spend the whole book watching Cath and waiting for that inevitable descent into “Off with their heads!”. We know the end, but we just don’t know how the sweet girl who bakes lemon tarts that taste like sunshine and believes as many as six impossible things before breakfast gets to that point. Heartless is all about a journey, so for readers who are looking for a constant flow of action and love and a surprise ending won’t enjoy this one. We know the ending. We just don’t know the beginning. And, unfortunately, journey tales tend to have slow pacing.
Near the beginning of Heartless, Cath advises the King that a lady doesn’t like to be whisked up in a marriage – ladies love the courtship and a very, very slow courtship is preferably. On Cath’s half, it’s because she really doesn’t want to marry the King of Hearts and is trying to avoid the inevitable proposal. But it seems to be the advice that Marissa Meyer followed in writing the story as well. The pacing is excruciatingly slow.
Honestly, though, if the pacing is the only thing I’m not in love with… this was a pretty darn good book by my standards… especially for an Alice in Wonderland retelling! I am positively delighted.
The characters were well varied and interesting enough. Jest is the sweetest little butter muffin and I adore his devotion and charm. Cath is passionate and naive, which works very well to her character because it is the naivety that allows her to be happy. Outside of those two, there’s a collection of rotating characters that an Alice fan will find familiar – Mary Ann the maid, the King of Hearts, Hatter, Haigha (that spelling! Nerd moment here – nice touch Marissa Meyer!), Peter Peter, the Jabberwock, the Mock Turtle, Margaret Merle/the Duchess, the disappearing and gossipy Cheshire Cat who has the answers if you’ll just listen… everyone is here, and if they aren’t here, they’re mentioned in passing. People like the White Queen and the Tweedles don’t make a personal appearance, but they do get a loving reference. Marissa Meyer has also done an exquisite job of keeping the correct characters on their side of the Looking Glass.
There is so much I appreciated here as a fan of the Alice franchise that if there were failings in the typical plot or garish villains, I forgave them instantly. If you are as big of an Alice in Wonderland fan as I am, Heartless is an absolute MUST READ. It’s a mix of humor, fun, intrigue and action, bundled up with so many Easter Eggs that my heart is filled with joy.