I’m not a fan of Alice in Wonderland at all. I’ve only seen the animated Disney movie once as a child and the first live-action movie once when it came out and I’ve never read the original books (or any other prequels, sequels, re-imaginings or anything else Alice related). It’s just not my thing – I guess it’s too surreal for me. But I absolutely loved the Lunar Chronicles so I decided to give this a go – and I’m glad I did!
Heartless is a stand-alone book all about how the notorious Queen of Hearts became so…well…heartless! Set in the Kingdom of Hearts, the story follows Cath (who is from a some-what noble family) and her ambition to open a bakery with her best friend, whilst she tries to avoid a marriage to the kind yet immature King of Hearts. Whilst the marriage seems ideal to most (including her mother) Cath is desperate to avoid it at all costs as she doesn’t want that life and doesn’t love the King. Things seem to be going undeniably in the direction that Cath doesn’t want – but then a new and mysterious court jester, Jest, shows up and throws a spanner in the works.
What follows is a doomed-to-fail romance and adventure that has you rooting for Cath and her dreams the whole way through, even though you know she can’t succeed, as she has to become the dreaded Queen of Hearts.
“It is a dangerous thing to unbelieve something only because it frightens you.”
The story does contain several references to the original source material but, if like me, you’ve not read them you shouldn’t be too lost. I managed to get 99% of the references and the ones I didn’t get didn’t spoil the narrative. There are other literary references, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven that couple quite well with the traditional references too!
Whilst I do find books like the original Alice series to be too surreal for my tastes, Heartless makes it easy to suspend your disbelief if this isn’t your usual genre. Meyer creates a world where a warthog and a human can have a relationship, sea creatures can breathe on land and food turns people into monsters and none of it seems to be too much or irritating. The world building is phenomenal and I felt at ease straight away, despite my lack of source knowledge.
I absolutely love Meyer’s writing style and Heartless is no exception. Meyer’s writing is beautifully descriptive throughout the story and really helps to set the scene for readers of all background knowledge levels. My favourite scenes to read were any that involved clothing and food! Meyer’s writing style builds tension brilliantly and I often found myself forgetting that this is a doomed story! It’s incredibly difficult to predict the twists and turns that the story will take, even though the ultimate ending will be a good-gone-bad narrative.
“Perhaps we know each other in the future and you’re only remembering backward.”
Meyer intricately twists together a narrative that is familiar yet new – this can be best summed up in her lush and varied characters, especially with Hatter. We are introduced to known characters such as Hatter, the King of Hearts (who I imagines as similar to King Candy in Wreck it Ralph!) and Cheshire but they are somewhat different – for example we are given a young and pre-mad Hatter, which I thought was an amazing choice. We also get new characters like Jest, who I absolutely and instantly became enraptured with and fell for! I can certainly see why Cath falls for him! It’s also refreshing to read a romance that feels genuine in a YA novel.
However it’s actually Cath who gives me the biggest problem in Heartless as both a character and her story arc narrative. Cath never seemed enough – her motivations, determination, emotions and actions never seemed enough in her situations. All of her positive experiences never seemed to make her happy enough to be believable to the reader, just like all of her negative experiences never seemed to be quite enough to realistically push her to be the Big Bad she ends up being. She also seemed a bit spiritless and indecisive when it came to her dreams – she just wasn’t proactive enough for me. I just wish her transformation was built up a little better, as it all comes rather suddenly at the end.
Heartless is a re-imagining, but at times it seems to be lacking in imagination. It’s still a great read, but it relies much more on the source materials than the books in the Lunar Chronicles do. Perhaps that’s because Cath is the Queen of Hearts whereas Cinder (for example) is simply inspired by Cinderella. The Lunar Chronicles don’t follow the classic plot twists of their fairy tales whereas Heartless is a direct re-imagining. Either way, I would have liked a little more from Meyer with Heartless.
“Her mother sneered. “Then you are a fool.”
“Good. I’ve become rather fond of fools.”
This is especially true for the ending. Towards the end of the book, there is an opportunity presented that sounds very interesting and I felt slightly cheated that I didn’t get to read that story at all! Hopefully Meyer will write and alternative ending or spinoff to solve this as the idea of an adventure in the Land of Chess and meeting the Red and White queens seems too good to pass up!
But with all that being said, Heartless was a great read. Was it as good as the Lunar Chronicles? No, but it was still well worth the time it takes to read and the emotional investment you give to the story and characters. Despite being over 400 pages, it’s a fast and easy read and very enjoyable.
So if any of these are your thing; re-imaginings, prophecies, magic or romance, or even if you are just a fan of Marissa Meyer then I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of Heartless.
“Sometimes your heart is the only thing worth listening to.”
[PLEASE NOTE]: I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.