I don’t like Alice in Wonderland but if there’s one thing I do like it’s angsty love stories with boys in eyeliner. So as you might imagine, I enjoyed Heartless by Marissa Meyer, a sort of prequel to Alice in Wonderland that tells the story of how the Queen of Hearts came to be.
Our protagonist is Lady Catherine, the daughter of a nobleman of the kingdom of Hearts. All she wants out of life is to open a bakery with her best friend, despite the fact that noble ladies do no such thing. Unfortunately for her, the unmarried king of Hearts selects her to be his bride on the night that Cath meets the new court joker, Jest, who is of course super sexy and the aforementioned eyeliner-wearer.
I listened to Heartless on audio book and I highly recommend it since the narrator was amazing. Now on to my actual feelings on the book. It was good, but I didn’t absolutely love it, which is mostly due to the fact that I was never much of fan of Wonderland and I was drawn in mostly by the forbidden love. While I enjoyed the angst, I found that there wasn’t nearly enough smooching to satisfy me in this book. While I understand that it is YA and thus any romance would be tamer, I still thought that a bit more action would have made the whole forbidden love angle that much more delicious.
My enjoyment of the book really ramped up when the sisters entered the picture about two thirds of the way through. Without spoiling anything, I will mention that they injected some exciting creep factor that made for a very satisfying conclusion.
So let’s talk characters. Cath’s character arc was well executed, especially considering how we all know how her story ends, even though we don’t know exactly how we get there. I did find myself extremely frustrated with her though. For someone as brave and strong willed she seemed too timid. I just wanted her to go do her bakery thing instead of dawdling with the king so much. Her lack of decision making made the second third of the book a slog. It also made it difficult to see why Jest would fall so madly in love with her (and basically instantly!), because other than baking and being able to manage in society, it’s hard to see the appeal. The other characters, such as Jest and the Hatter were lots of fun and their friendship was one of my favorite parts of the book.
The world building was great, even for me, who did watch Alice in Wonderland (the Disney version, although I can’t remember if that was in English or Russian, that’s how long ago that was) and read the Lewis Carroll “Jabberwocky” poem in school (I think) but remembered very little about the world otherwise. I really felt like the world was fleshed out and I started remembering little bits and pieces from the Disney movie, like the roses. The world was just the right amount of nonsensical and whimsical to fit well with the original source material.
The plot wasn’t bad. I had gone in assuming that the love story was the main plot thread but that didn’t quite feel satisfying for the reasons mentioned above. The secondary plot of a terrifying creature ravaging the kingdom of Hearts and the Looking Glass and other kingdoms, were ultimately more interesting that Cath’s indecision about her feelings for Jest and her desire to please her parents. Everything gets a whole lot better closer to the end when you can start to feel the tragic ending looming. That’s when the book really picked up for me.
Overall, the books wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything mind blowing. Three out of five stars.