~ If I might have a personal moment to share a cool related story with you before getting into this review. Please allow me the momentary indulgence.~
Two years ago, I participated in an event with Marissa Meyer at my old stomping grounds, Schuler Books and Music in Lansing, MI. Marissa was touring for Cress at the time and our promo coordinator (pictured below with Marissa and myself) had landed a stop of her tour. As the YA bookseller, and a great fan of her, I was very excited. I opted to wear my red wedding dress (yesss!) and attend the event in high-style only to fangirl all over her (and her husband) like the blabbering fool that I am.
I’m sure that I frightened her. In fact, I’m positive that I did.
Luckily, we had a good moment in the conference room pre-event. We talked about writing and she told me that she was doing edits (maybe even final edits?) on Heartless. We talked further and I shared with her that I was writing retellings too, though they were nothing like hers, of course. She encouraged me to continue onward and have fun with it. It was a great, sweet moment in a great night and I cherished that interaction.
Heartless is an upcoming Young Adult standalone novel by Marissa Meyer, author of The Lunar Chronicles. Like Cinder and its sister books, this book is also a classic retelling, though it’s not a traditional fairy tale. Meyer re-imagines the events of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass in order to create this book; an origin story for the villainous Queen of Hearts.
In the land of Hearts, Lady Catherine Pinkerton lives a seemingly charmed life. Her parents, the Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove, are wealthy and respected nobles in the King’s court. Cath has always had whatever her heart desires but what it desires most is to live a simpler live of creating confections and pastries. Cath wants to be a baker and wants to run the most successful bakery in the land. She plans daily with her best friend Mary Ann, a servant in her parents’ home, and toils to perfect the ideal tart or cake to tempt the gentry with. She believes with all her soul that her dreams are attainable, though her ambitious parents have other royal plans in store for her.
One night at the King’s infamous black-and-white ball, Cath gets an idea of how grasping her parents may be. Insistent upon a choice of clothes, Cath’s mother forces her to attend the ball wearing a garish red gown. Her argument is that she will better stand out and catch the King’s attention. It is then that Cath realizes that her mother has designs on the Queendom for her and that she wants the foolish, simple King to become Cath’s husband. Frustrated and alone, Catherine meets Jest, the new court Joker. It is then that a new path slowly begins to appear before her rose-colored eyes, a path that may lead her astray from everything she has ever wanted.
This book is just what I wanted from Meyer. It hits all the buttons for a retelling for me – a good homage to the original story, a new spin on the things that I know and love, great character development, a thrilling story, and a dark and twisty end that thoroughly surprised me. Frankly, I did not see any of the ending coming, and I loved that so much. Not only did she keep me guessing but she shocked me with her story. That’s high praise for anyone, especially these days.
I loved the coming-of-age feel to this story, how naive her heroine was. For much of the book, Catherine remains innocent and pure, taking her time to succumb to the dark, internal, relentlessly violent Queen we all know and love. At first I was afraid that I would grow tired of her; that she might prove to be a little too Pollyanna for my tastes. As the story progressed, Cath developed from pure of heart to ruthless and fearful, sometimes changing on a dime. These were the moments that I ate up; the quick-change temperament, the crazed megalomaniac that I so wanted her to be.
There is a romance in this book, as any good Meyer fan would hope for…and it’s every bit as toe-curling as one might want. Jest is superbly drawn, cunning and gorgeous, dripping with wit and glimpses of malice alike. He is so much fun to read in a scene. There are interactions that dance, and interactions that sing, and interactions that warm and sizzle. There are also some very grim moments, some dark pacing, and some very harsh tidings. The Queen of Hearts herself is not a pretty character nor is her journey happy; she is complex and shrewd and visceral and violent. How can we expect anything about this story to be simple?
There are also many characters from the Alice books peppered throughout this tale – animals and turtles, Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the teacup Dormouse, Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar, and numerous other favourites. There are also new characters to be found with Raven and Peter Peter and so many others. I love that Meyer not only referenced Lewis Carroll but also Edgar Allan Poe and other nursery rhymes as well. At first I thought it odd but they blended together so perfectly that I didn’t mind it shortly afterwards. It’s a suitable homage so long as the nod is well-formed, and this one is perfectly executed in all cases.
It’s hardly a secret to any regular readers that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are some of my favourite books of all times. That Meyer has written something so well done, so superbly drawn, and so exquisitely rendered, is such a treat to me. This book can easily sit alongside Carroll’s work with pride. It’s a perfect prequel.
I feel as if Meyer has made the impossible possible…She has written me (and countless others) a new book in Carroll’s series, one that he hardly imagined himself. And the only thing I can say to that is bravo. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed reading this book.
5 out of 5 stars.
* Heartless releases November 8, 2016. Please watch for a future ARC giveaway!
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