By Marissa Meyer
Summary: 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.
Source: I received an exclusive hardcover edition in an Owlcrate.
I love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and I am always intrigued by villain backstories, so Heartless was on my radar. I was super excited to get it in an Owlcrate box and even more excited that it was an exclusive cover! It was written by an author I love and set in a world I enjoy escaping into, so my expectations were fairly high.
Heartless was a lot more difficult to get into than I expected and, while the story did pick up, I can’t say that I enjoyed it nearly as much as I thought I would. I expected the author to weave a tale that combined Wonderland and the Queen of Hearts together in a unique way because of how flawlessly she executed The Lunar Chronicles. I think my expectations were really high, so I won’t completely fault the book for that.
Catherine was very difficult for me to relate to, so perhaps that is also a reason it was a bit hard to get into. Catherine loved to bake and dreamed of one day opening her own bakery. She didn’t think her parents would ever let that happen, but she tried her best to line up a solid business plan once a storefront opened in Hearts. The King of Hearts took an interest in her, or her baked goods, but her as well, and it was clear that he would likely propose to her, a thing everyone in Hearts was excited about except her. Cath was falling in love with the court joker, Jest. She was one of those people who couldn’t seem to be firm with anyone. Inside, she wanted things and knew what she wanted, but she was so afraid to disappoint people and she didn’t think anyone would support her. I think Cath is easy to relate to if you’re also that way and come from a strict household, but I’m pretty strong willed for a shy person, so she just drove me nuts. She pretty much led the joker AND the King on just because she kept agreeing to what everyone else wanted, despite her heart actually swaying towards only one of them. To be fair, the book is NOT a love triangle, just a tangled mess of What-Will-Cath-Do moments. It was difficult to watch her make decisions when under pressure or in front of people and also know what she wanted to decide deep down.
The way it ended was dramatic and interesting and I enjoyed it. It didn’t actually end the way I thought it was going to for most of the book, so I was happy to at least see a bit of a twist in direction (thought I do still think it was predictable) and see some choices that were out of her control impact her character.
I don’t really feel like Heartless was good enough in terms of showing why a seemingly normal girl would become the villain we all know. The Queen of Hearts is the villain and one that probably wasn’t always that way, with a thousand reasons why that could be. Even the Tim Burton movies have delved into her past in order to give her a little backstory, so I was intrigued and excited to get another possible origin story for her from a favorite author. But I don’t feel like Heartless did anything grand, brought anything new to the table, or wowed me. We all know who the Queen of Hearts becomes because we’ve seen a million adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s original story, so any attempt to gain insight to her character had to be engrossing and interesting and new.. and Heartless wasn’t nearly as compelling as it should’ve been. I didn’t put the book down and feel like my heart was ripped out of my chest or that I truly got Cath or the Queen of Hearts and that’s what a truly good “origin” story should’ve done.
Despite the fact that the book didn’t wow me, it was still a good book. For a fan of Wonderland, it brought new and old characters together in a unique way. It took me into Wonderland through the eyes of someone other than the infamous Alice. I did love Jest and the growing romance between Cath and Jest, too. I loved the character of the not-so-clever King of Hearts and the too clever Cheshire. It was great fun, so it wasn’t a complete let down overall. Most of the book was light and quirky and I loved seeing how the author would portray each beloved character. The only character she didn’t really nail the way I expected was the main character, but the rest of them were very well done. I also love that there was a Raven and that the author including a little bit of intertwining Poe into the story, as it worked well and I am also a huge Poe fan.
I recommend Heartless, as it’s not necessarily a skippable book if you’re a fan of Wonderland. It’s worth exploring just to see another twist on an old favorite. However, if you do pick the book up, take your expectations and slash them in half. Pick up expecting a lot less than you were and I think it’ll be a much better book for you. It’s good, just not anywhere near as good as The Lunar Chronicles or what you may expect.