My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: November 8, 2016
Genre: YA Fantasy; Fairy Tale Retelling
“Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. 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 a secret courtship.
Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.”
“Sometimes your heart is the only thing worth listening to.”
I read this book near the beginning of November and I’m just now getting around to reviewing it. Needless to say, specific details are a bit fuzzy. However, I’m going to go off what I remember and how I felt about the plot, characters, and writing in general.
After having some time to let the story settle, I’ve decided that I love this book. As evidenced by her Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer has proven that she is incredibly skilled in crafting retellings of well-known fairy tales. I really enjoyed Heartless, despite it’s flaws. In comparison to the Lunar Chronicles, Heartless doesn’t necessarily match up in terms of plot development. However, the story makes up for its weaknesses with its whimsical nature and vibrant cast of characters.
The writing for Heartless is nothing exceptional or groundbreaking, but it is lyrical and fluid. Just by reading the first page, readers know that they’re in for an extravagantly topsy-turvy experience that is accentuated with sensory details. Meyer excels in bringing the wonder into Wonderland through her characterizations and richly detailed settings and events. There is no lack of color, of humor, of rhymes and riddles. Meyer brings all the elements we love from Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Wonderland and gives them new life in a refreshing new tale that acts as the origin story of the famous Queen of Hearts.
“When pleased, I beat like a drum. When sad, I break like glass. Once stolen, I can never be taken back. What am I?”
The author brings back familiar characters like the Chesire Cat and the Mad Hatter, and allows them to flourish in their own roles, especially the Mad Hatter. I was pleasantly surprised by Meyer’s choice to give the Hatter a much larger role than expected in this tale. Not only is this the origin story of a young girl named Catherine who becomes the Queen of Hearts, it is also the origin story of a hatter before he devolves into madness. I also appreciate the tie-ins of Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater and Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven. These helped to give the story a bit more breadth and whimsy.
Of all the characters, Jest is the most charismatic and he is most certainly swoon-worthy. I loved the relationship he had with Catherine, though it could have been developed a bit more. I felt some sparks were missing between the two in the beginning, but by the end, I was fully convinced that they were a lovely pairing. His character was the essence of fun and lightheartedness. It was hard not to love him.
“Over everything, I choose you.”
As for Catherine, I really enjoyed her character. She is headstrong and determined, and I also loved her affinity for baking. She is a wonderful character in her own right, and I admired her strength and cleverness as well as her bravery, both in love and in life. I especially loved watching her transformation from a loving, caring young noblewoman to an angry and ruthless queen.
So, why didn’t I give this book 5 stars? Because I knew how this book would end. The book is called Heartless and so I knew that somewhere along the way, something terrible would have to happen for Catherine to lose her heart and ability to love. After the introduction of Jest, it became obvious what would need to happen for her to become the Queen of Hearts, and so I was left incredibly unsurprised in the end. I was hoping there would be some plot twist that would really throw me off, but no. There were still some surprising events in the end, but not enough to convince me that everything that happened before the ending was important. In this aspect, the story was underwhelming.
I would also say that this is the type of story I would label plot challenged in that there is no definitive plot, only a series of subplots and mini-conflicts that criss-cross and run parallel with one another. There is no one BIG conflict, but a plethora of issues that carry their own weight and purpose. This forms a story that is engaging, but not fully captivating as there is no huge issue to focus on. In a way, it’s a slice of life story with mini-events and conflicts that eventually culminate into one “shocking” event that triggers a resolution or after-story.
All in all, this is a great book. The pacing is a bit uneven and the ending is foreseeable, but the characters are intriguing, the writing is excellent, and the essence of Wonderland is gorgeously conveyed throughout the pages. It’s not perfect, but it’s entertaining and it is definitely a lovely addition to any YA reader’s shelves.