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.
In her first stand-alone teen novel, the New York Times-bestselling author dazzles us with a prequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. From Goodreads.
When I first heard that Marissa Meyer was writing Heartless - a prequel origins story of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland - I was a little nervous. Because it's by Meyer, I was definitely going to read, as I adored The Lunar Chronicles, but I do not like Alice in Wonderland. It's a bit too weird for me, too much goes on, and I worried, because Heartless would be set in that universe, that it would be a bit too weird, too. Thankfully, I absolutely adored it!
Heartless started off a bit on the slow side, but it soon picked up. Lady Catherine Pinkerton is the daughter of Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove. With a love of baking, all she wants is a simple life of owning a bakery and selling the cakes and pastries the kingdom of Hearts already can't get enough of. Her mother, however, has other plans; she is determined that Cath will become the bumbling, giggling, jittery King of Hearts' wife and become the Queen, though Cath couldn't think of anything worse. When the King appoints a new court joker, Jest, Cath's eyes are opened to a new possibility. Jest is charming and flirtatious, and seems to be as interested in Cath as she is of him. But her family would never approve of her courting a lowly joker. While trying to fight for the life she wants, terror has arrived in Hearts; a Jabberwock, the beast everyone thought was a myth, attacks at a ball, injuring people and eating others. But who will rid the kingdom of the monster, when the king buries his head in the sand, pretending nothing is happening?
There were things I saw coming, and things I didn't. Knowing that Heartless is a prequel to Alice in Wonderland, that it's an origin story, you know how it's going to end: Cath will marry the King and become the Queen. You know this from the start, but as you read the story, get too know and care about the characters, the more and more you hope that it doesn't come to pass. Although the world Cath lives in is fantastical, it has a similar societal structure to Victorian England, and it felt stifling. Cath, as a daughter of aristocracy, is not free to do as she pleases. She has a role to play; she is to uphold the family honour, and not disgrace it. Running a bakery? Courting a joker? Her parents would never allow it. And yet, Cath dreams. She dreams so strongly that she makes plans, with her maid, Mary Ann, who she plans to go into business with. They find a shop that's closing down, they try to work out ways to gain the money to buy it. This isn't just some idle fancy of Cath's, it's what she wants more than anything. But she is a girl, and a Lady at that, she will never be allowed to do such lowly work.
And as she and Jest - who at times reminds me of Thorn from The Lunar Chronicles - begin to fall for each other, the more heartbreaking the story gets. It's surprisingly emotional, as Cath dares to dream of a life of her own, and slowly seeing her dreams fall in tatters. It upset me, but it made me angry. There are some serious not-so-subtle feminist undertones to this story, which I love. Cath is controlled by the confines of class, the confines of her gender, and really, it's just as horrifying at the Jabberwock. Really, it's no wonder the Queen of Hearts is like she is. It's so very easy to put yourself in Cath's shoes, and the misery overwhelmed me as it looked like everything would be taken from her two thirds of the way in, then desperately clinging to home when it looked like there was a chance to turn things around, and then the devastation, the anger and the rage. Oh my god, the rage.
I should point out that characters we know from the original story do make an appearance. The White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter (who is quite a prominent character himself, and Heartless could also be considered his origin story), the March Hare. Some only have minor roles and tiny cameo appearances, but others show up pretty regularly. It was strange, but kind of cool to find that I liked most of these characters, while I was pretty certain I would hate them.
If there were any negatives to the story, they're just be small nit-picky things that I would have liked to have seen more of. I would have liked to see Cath and Jest's relationship develop a bit more. It's not instalove, but I don't feel there are quite enough moments between them before they've both fallen. I liked Jest being flirty and skirting along the edge of outrageous, but he soon becomes love-struck and is more soft, sharing how he feels often. Also, I would have liked the sub-plot of the Jabberwock to have had more of a focus, because I loved all those scary, action-filled moments. But because Cath is a Lady, dealing with the Jabberwock - if anyone is going to, what with the King in charge - isn't something that involves her, even when she is being courted by the King. The Jabberwock is attacking the kingdom, and although Cath is present for some of the things that happen, she's not around for everything. I really would have liked to have known more about it, like how? I know why and how the Jabberwock has appeared, but I would like that explanation expanded upon. I have some questions I don't know the answers to. But again, it's only a small thing, and doesn't matter in the great scheme of things. Just tiny, nit-picky things.
I absolutely loved Heartless. It put my emotions through the wringer, and made me care about characters I previously disliked. Such a wonderful, emotional story, and I so wish there were more books to come. Heartless has made me feel a lot less nervous about trying other Alice in Wonderland retellings, so I'm excited to go back to this universe through other authors!
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books for the proof.
Published: 9th February 2017
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Marissa Meyer's Website
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