Author(s): Marissa Meyer
Release Date: 9th February 2017
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Source: Publisher (ARC)
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, 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.
In her first stand-alone teen novel, the New York Times-bestselling author dazzles us with a prequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
When I heard that Marissa Meyer was releasing a new retelling, I was more than incredibly excited: I literally could not wait to get my hands on it. Even though I am not the biggest fan of 'Alice in Wonderland' (mostly thanks to the awful adaptations we've had recently), I absolutely love a good villain origin story. Marissa had already proved she could do one well with 'Fairest' in her 'Lunar Chronicles' series, so my expectations were quite high!
This standalone follows the story of Catherine, a marquess, who would gladly give up her life of comfort and pretty gowns to open a bakery and bring joy into people's lives through her cakes and sweets. The whole of Hearts looks forward to her delicacies at every party thrown by the king, but she does not have an easy path ahead of her: her mother is pushing her into the King's arms, a man Catherine avoids whenever she can. She does not seem to have much time for love in her life, until she dreams of a man with amber eyes...
As someone that appreciates quite a few stories above 'Alice in Wonderland', I was surprised by how much I ended up liking the world from this different perspective. There is a lot of commonality but at the same time Marissa introduced her own twists in things, without making them seem out of place. I especially liked how she subtly explains certain aspects that will become relevant when Alice comes around in a way that is fluid and fits perfectly, but does not jump out as 'I need this here so you know these stories are connected'. Seeing some well known and loved characters, even if briefly, was also a plus!
It seems I always latch onto the same thing with every 'Alice' retelling, but it is the one aspect I need to see done right for me to be able to enjoy it: Cheshire. He's always been my favourite, but his personality is very unique and hard to get just right, especially in the page when you can't rely on his expressions and body language to get that across (when you can see it, that is). In 'Heartless' I found myself loving every one of his scenes, and I wished he would just be around all the time, because that level of sass is just too perfect to not have around.
When it comes to the story, I found myself going back and forth in my opinion of it. It does grab you from the first page, but the truth is, it takes a while to pick up. As fantastical as the world is and as interesting it is to see the everyday life of the inhabitants of Hearts, not having the main plot of the story develop until 300 pages in is a bit too much. That was, however, my biggest gripe with it, so do be advised that while it takes some time to pick up the pace, it does end up being worth it!
The blurb is a little misleading as well since, until she meets Jest, Cath does not seem that interested in falling in love: her biggest dream is having her bakery, regardless of having a romantic partner along with her. I am perfectly okay with her finding someone in the end, but describing it like that from the beginning to readers might imply that she is not the independent, self assured person that she actually is once you read it. As for the romance itself, while great, it did feel just slightly instantaneous, especially considering there were those 300 pages with not much more going on where that relationship could have easily been spread over. It is not completely poorly done, however, and after falling in love with Jest myself, I can't really blame Cath, if I'm being completely honest...
That last stretch of the book was what really did it for me. I was struggling to see how a girl like Cath could eventually become the Queen of Hearts we've all come to fear, but I ended up thoroughly convinced. After all, Marissa is a master when it comes to this sort of situation, and the level of emotion that she managed to put onto the page was unbelievable. Avoiding spoilers here, but the balance of all the different elements that come together in the end was brilliantly achieved, and I was only sad that the story did not take up further into her life. Can you tell I love a good villain?
Overall, while having a slow start that is heavily based in character development and world building, 'Heartless' does come together in the end as a great story about someone who has spent her entire life being told who to be, set in a world that often defies reason, and so Marissa's work in putting this together is such a canonically sounding way must have not been easy. If Cath is the Queen of Hearts, Marissa Meyer is the Queen of Retellings!