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 is so much to say about Heartless! I was fortunate enough to read this on the wave to Comic Con and I just didn't want to let the characters go! Marisa Meyer, as always finds the right balance between retelling a familar fairytale and creating a unique, sophisticated original story.
The story centers on Catherine and her frustration and anger at the world around her. All she wants to do is bake and become independent, but it seems that is not what the world has planned out for her. Catherine is strong, yet vulnerable, intelligent but also naive at times. She is a relatable character in every sense of the word. Hats off to Meyer for making a character we grew up hating into a character where we can glimpse just a tiny part of ourselves.
Jest, the court joker, adds a bit a balance to Catherine's growing anger. He is that tiny voice of truth- or maybe it is just smoke and mirrors? Is anything what it truly seems in the world of Wonderland? Overall, while I found myself really wanting Catherine to get her happy ending (and prevent the Red Queen from coming to be) my favorite character is Jest. If there is any character I would love to get inside their head- it is Jest. He adds a depth and mystique to the entire story that made me want to turn just one more page. (This lead to lots of hours of lost sleep- but so worth it!)
What I loved best?
The ending. While I am sad that this is a stand alone, it is great to finish a book and feel like it is everything you hoped it would be. Hopefully Marissa Meyer will have even more retellings in the future. She is a master at the craft.
(Side note: The descriptions of Catherine's pastries and baked goods made my mouth water. It didn't help that my sister is a baker and I wanted her to make everything the moment I read it. Your mouth will water and you will get a very strong sweet tooth. It made this book stand out in a very unique way and I absolutely loved every moment!)
Fans of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, retellings with a twist, and just great books must put Heartless at the top of their TBR!
Mouth Watering Descriptions
Catherine's life is further complicated by the new court joker from Chess, Jest, who she first saw in a dream and who is handsomely devastating. He saves her from a tight corset at the ball where she was to be made queen. Although Catherine knows she should marry the king and give up her dreams, she can't help but wish for the life she wants, as a simple baker, married to Jest and working with Mary Ann. Fate does not agree with her.
The book is somewhat slow to get going, as this alternate world is built and characters (from Alice's adventures) are introduced throughout. Some of them seem to be included just for the connections, but I found most of them to be a little extraneous/unnecessary in this book, dragging out the story a bit too much. However, the last 25% was absolutely incredible and the way that the story is woven was unexpected and made so much sense that it was almost nonsensical (in the way only Wonderland can be). Everything comes together in such an unpredictable way that makes so much sense in the end. I was at the edge of my seat seeing it all happen.
The romance was pretty good between Catherine and Jest, but I wasn't over-the-moon about their relationship. I saw how she could get caught in him, but this was like most teenager/Romeo&Juliet style insta-love and passionate/overwhelming lust. The king really didn't seem so bad, but he represented everything that was keeping Catherine trapped, while Jest was everything she ever dreamed her life could hold. You have to be able to buy into Jest/Catherine a little more than I could while reading. That being said, it was easy to see why they became so passionate about the other and how this played out at the end.
Overall, it was an incredible villain origin story that ended so fantastically the meanderings along the way were (mostly) forgotten. The author says she was inspired by Gregory Maguire's books, and I could definitely see the influence. For fans of Maguire, this book will definitely be a win!
Marissa Meyer, one day I will find you and I will marry you! (cannot make it less threatening, sorry!) How she manages to transform the tiniest details of the tales she's retelling into greater stories is beyond me!
Now, I love Alice in Wonderland... no, I LOVE Alice in Wonderland. Ok, looks better. And when I LOVE something I end up being really picky, be a retelling or an alternative portrayal of the thing, I'll approach it being very skeptical and wary. I didn't know much about Heartless when I picked it up but when I recognized characters like Mary Ann, Haigha, Hatta and the Mock Turtle, I knew that dear Marissa Meyer had done well her research!
"Stuff and nonsense. Nonsense and stuff and much of a muchness and nonsense all over again. We are all mad here, don't you know?"
Now, Heartless. First of all, HOW DIDN'T I KNOW THIS WAS A PREQUEL? HOW??? EVERYBODY KNEW, EVERY REVIEW I READ IS ABOUT PEOPLE WHO KNEW, WHY DIDN'T I? I SIGNED MYSELF UP FOR TRAUMA FROM THE VERY START!!! But, first things first...
While I was reading it I thought it was a quirky combination of 2 Broke Girls and Once Upon a time. It starts with Catherine and Mary Ann, one gentry and the other one maid, just two girls dreaming about opening a bakery in their hometown, Hearts. Catherine, though, soon finds out that the King is thinking about proposing to her, thing that'll relegate her to a life of nobility, sure, but also unhappiness. And if she was already thinking about denying the King her hand, she became even more stubborn when she unexpectedly found herself slowly falling in love with the Court's jester, Jest. Jester, with his impossibility and charm and the name that weirdly resambles his very job and his cheekiness and tea parties and magic, how can a girl resist him? But Jest has a secret, a secret that might keep them both from totally giving into each other.
"But hoping," he said, "is how the impossible can be possible after all."
The world building felt natural, a thing difficult to achieve when the source material is basically a long stream of nonsense. The characters relatable and different from one another, each one with its quirks and flaws.
The overall story simple to follow yet difficult to let go, I couldn't spend more than two of my waking hours not reading it. It's been a tiresome week, I can assure you! Heartless has been dark and eerie, funny and light-hearted in equal measure. And if you have any familiarity with the classic story this will be the best Alice retelling you've ever read! (in case it won't be, to each their own I guess!) I had no idea this was going to be a prequel to "Alice in Wonderland and through the Looking-Glass" when I first picked it up so when everything wrapped up in the end I was a squealing mess!!
"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 ending was amazing! When each tile took its rightful place in this beautiful mosaic I was astounded! Heartbroken and crying... but astounded!
Finally I warn you, although having loved this book I must admit that plot wise there's not much, there's not adventure and few action scenes. The story relies mainly on Cath and her character's development so it might not be everyone's favourite. As for me it's my jam!!