Heartless by Marissa Meyer
I seriously underestimated Heartless.
To be entirely honest, at first there was a part of me that didn’t even want to read the book. I know Alice in Wonderland, I know the Queen of Hearts–do I really just want my heart broken?
The answer is yes, yes indeed I do. Rip it out, tear it to shreds, stomp on it, throw it in a volcano. Or worse. I don’t care. Meyer can do whatever the hell she wants to me if she keeps churning out these masterpieces. C’est magnifique! *chef’s kiss*
The basics: Cath’s a supremely skilled aspiring baker whose status as the daughter of a marquess proves a massive hindrance in her dream of opening a bakery with her maid/best friend, Mary Ann (the name ring a bell?). Mummy dearest is dead-set on Cath marrying the pint-sized king but then Cath meets the insanely intriguing court jester named Jest who drives her mad with forbidden feelings that make her lose her head and her heart. Meanwhile, the nasty Jabberwock is picking off the Wonderlanders and no one really does anything to stop it, least of all the useless king. Add to that the whole side mission from Chess, a raven that quoth ‘Nevermore,’ and Cirque du Soleil-level theatrics and we’re all bound to go a little mad here.
Oh Cath, my sweet little sugar cookie, where do I even begin? I genuinely adored her and I’m pretty freaking mad about it. How dare you make the QoH lovable and honest and sweet? How dare you make her someone I don’t want to see turn into a vicious decapitation-obsessed wretch? I identified with Cath so well it kind of scared me. She’s driven, ambitious, both sharp and open, and passionate. A dreamer. A romantic. She’s not brave in the conventional sense but has a special brand of bravery that comes out when someone else is in danger. Cath as Cath is completely unrecognizable from Cath as the QoH which makes it that much harder to read the ending, but also makes the process just that much more intriguing to follow. I loved her from page one and even at the end she had me more upset than anything else, missing the girl she used to be.
Jest is phenomenal in so many ways! He’s flirty and funny and utterly, wonderfully nonsensical. He’s sweet and devoted and romantic. He’s also powerful and mysterious, impossible to figure out (impossible is his specialty) but so close to perfect in spite of that, plus indisputably brave and so, so honourable. The two together are so complementary, so well-suited that it’s impossible to deny how meant for each other they are. If I believed in soul mates, these two are it.
I could’ve done with a few more Jest + Cath scenes though–almost time they start to get closer they’re interrupted. I mean, come on, the girl’s about to turn into an axe-happy murderous tyrant, the least you can do is give her a little bit of action before she sets about decapitating all of Wonderland! Have a little sympathy here.
It’s also fabulous to get to see all our familiar Wonderland characters make their appearances like the Cheshire, Mad Hatter, March Hare, and more! Meyer puts her own spin on them and yeah, okay, sometimes it’s not my favourite spin but they’re completely recognizable and utterly themselves underneath it. There are also so many new creatures and characters that Lewis Carroll’s world is so perfectly blended into Meyer’s own creation it requires a great deal of effort to separate the two.
Speaking of the world, Meyer mixes Wonderland with Victorian society which is a welcome deviation from most novels with royalty. Often there’s some sort of medieval or Renaissance inspiration whenever a book deals with betrothals and inheritance, etc. The real world of the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which was released in 1865 is the same, then, that mingles with Wonderland in Heartless making it simultaneously unique and fitting, while oh so appropriate for the story taking place itself.
A major favourite factor of this novel is definitely the writing. Obviously I already like Meyer’s writing–I was singing Scarlet‘s praises just a few weeks ago!–but this is Wonderland! Woderland isn’t Wonderland if it’s not foolish and nonsensical and somehow impossibly possible all at once. I was kind of afraid the book wouldn’t fully emulate that. FEAR NOT! She mixes phrases from the original books with her own words and writing and character creating that somehow make sense in making zero sense at all. The very essence of Wonderland is thoroughly captured and I FREAKING LOVED IT!
The story is obviously a tragedy. I mean really, expecting Cath to get any kind of happily ever after is like expecting Romeo or Juliet to live at the end of their play–the end is predetermined, and any kind of good that might come out of it occupies the space of ‘never gonna happen.’ It makes it beyond difficult, then, to fall so in love with Cath and Jest and everyone else and know what she turns into. I saw a lot about people hating the ending of the book, so truth be told I was kind of scared–a bad ending can ruin an entire novel, no matter how good it was to start with–but honestly? I kind of liked it. Okay no, I was okay with it, because it still made me cry and felt like my heart was ripped out of my chest cavity and left to slowly bleed out on a hot bed of nails while I watched, but it was well done, it didn’t come out of left field, and it felt right (in the wrongest way possible but right nonetheless). I can’t say I enjoyed the end but I knew what I signed up for; the most I could hope was that in delivering an ending I didn’t want, it would be done well. And it was.
Heartless was not at all what I’d expected and I genuinely could not be happier. I loved Cath and Jest and the Wonderland creatures, I loved the setting, I loved the nonsense, I loved all the little details, and I loved it despite it being utterly and completely heartbreaking. The key, I think, to these kinds of retellings is more inspiration than retelling: don’t just repeat the story, draw on it and make it your own. That’s what Meyer does in all of her books and while Heartless may be seriously lacking in the cyborg-department, it really delivers in all things mad.
Click here for the book synopsis on goodreads!