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.
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Publication Date: November 8, 2016 by Feiwel & Friends
This was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had all year! I postponed starting Heartless because I was worried that it wouldn’t do Alice in Wonderland justice, but I was pleasantly surprised.
In Heartless Meyer is able to combine the best parts of Carroll’s world with her own unique storytelling to come up with a story that is both familiar and entirely new. The balance just felt so perfect – she doesn’t bastardize Carroll’s original ideas nor does she completely stray from the world that fans of Alice in Wonderland come to expect no matter who is recreating the story.
Catherine Pinkerton – daughter of a marquess and deemed to be the future Queen of Hearts – is trapped in the expectations her royal blood has put forth. Whereas her parents see a future for her that involves a marriage to the king, all Catherine wants is freedom to choose her own destiny – a destiny that means shedding a life of luxury in order to own a bakery with her best friend and housemaid, Mary Ann.
This was why she enjoyed baking. A good dessert could make her feel like she’d created joy at the tips of her fingers. Suddenly, the people around the table were no longer strangers. They were friends and confidantes, and she was sharing with them her magic.
If the fantasy of owning her own bakery wasn’t enough to distract her from her impending engagement, Catherine meets Jest, the court joker, and suddenly realizes how much more difficult it will be to go against her parents’ wishes in order to pursue her own idea of happiness.
The first half of the book left me hungry and craving macarons, but readers shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Heartless is a light romance with lots of amazing descriptions of desserts. Meyer creates a sense of foreboding even in spite of the initial hope felt in the first half of the book – a perfect combination of fairytale-esque wonder and Victorian-era sexism that is frightening for even those familiar with the original Alice books. And for those who know the Queen of Hearts from Carroll’s tales, it’s clear that things aren’t going to end happily ever after.
As the story progresses, the tension begins to heighten. The Jabberwocky’s attacks increase and Catherine feels the grip of her inevitable future tighten around her as she realizes her choices are becoming further and further limited by what her society expects of her. Catherine’s anger and frustration is palpable and hints of her future self are seen in her emotions and feelings of utter hopelessness. It becomes easy to see the Queen of Hearts in Carroll’s realm and it is utterly heartbreaking (pun not intended!)
Murderer. Martyr. Monarch. Mad.
Meyer knows exactly how to combine the lighter, more childlike details of Alice in Wonderland – the tea parties, the Cheshire Cat’s humor, the decadent desserts – with the dark and vicious aspects of true fairytales. The only disappointment I felt was knowing that Heartless was a standalone book and I would not be reading more of Catherine’s life. This isn’t to say that Meyer’s book left me wanting for anything, but only that the story was so good that I was sad to have it come to an end!