Published by Macmillan Children’s, 9th February 2017, 464 pages, £5.59
I was so excited when I got my ARC of this, but unfortunately I did not enjoy it as much as hoped. I read the entire Lunar Chronicles this summer and it blew me away, bumping Marissa Meyer up as one of my favourite authors. The premise of Heartless seemed interesting enough- an origin story of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. I’m not a huge Lewis Caroll fan. I love the Jabberwock poem, but I haven’t read Alice in Wonderland in years and I vaguely remember the Disney movie. So I haven’t been interested in reading Caroll adaptations in the past. I was only reading this because of the author. I thought it was going to be like Fairest, the origin story of the evil Queen Levana in the Lunar Chronicles, tragic and fascinating.
Before she became a blood thirsty loon, Catherine Pinkerton was once a young vivacious woman who dreamed of opening her own bakery. But being the daughter of nobility, she was forced into a marriage with the tiny air-headed King of Hearts who was unfortunately besotted with her. She meets Jest, the King’s new mysterious court entertainer, who introduces her to new ideas, worlds, and most importantly, freedom. They enter a secret romance despite the inevitable danger. Meanwhile the Kingdom is being terrorised by vicious monsters with no hope of being vanquished.
I was quickly enchanted by Meyer’s world building which was beautifully and cleverly written. Magic, wonder and intrigue filled each description, from lemon trees that grow from dreams to dancing lobsters. There are so many allusions to Caroll’s creation, which was a nice unearthing of my childhood memories. Familiar and new characters slip in together naturally. Catherine is a very passionate and warm character. Her struggle for independence, which evokes Victorian female oppression, is very endearing.
However, I’m afraid this is where my interest ends. My reading of this book took two months, way longer than I anticipated. Instead of racing through to the end as I did the Lunar Chronicles, I kept getting distracted by other books. I had to ask myself why it almost went into a slump pile, despite having so much promise? I think at the end of the day, when you take away all the beautiful (and sometimes heavy) descriptions, which is primarily adapted from other works, you are left with a singular story line: a young girl with a dream who is forced to abandon it. I’m not saying this story is too simple, but in this case it doesn’t survive. The romance between Catherine and Jest developed too slowly and just wasn’t strong enough. This resulted in the shift in Catherine’s character at the dreaded ending being quite displaced.
Perhaps it belongs to more devoted Caroll fans. The only reason I am not giving it 2.5 stars is because of the beautiful writing which is undeniably impressive. I will, of course, still look forward to more of Marissa Meyer’s work.