If you have read Alice in Wonderland before, the Queen of Hearts is most likely your least favorite character. She is temperamental—“Off with your head!”—and does several perplexing things, such as forcing her subjects to paint white roses red. But have you ever wondered how the Queen of Hearts’ foul personality came to be? In Heartless, author Marissa Meyer suggests that the queen was once a bright and lively girl named Catherine Pinkerton.
In Meyer’s story, Catherine is the wealthy daughter of a marquess, and the King of Hearts wants to marry her—but, Catherine dreams of other things. She dreams of opening a bakery with her maid Mary Ann; she dreams of the support of her strict parents; she dreams of being able to make money without a husband. But, it’s the cold, hard truth that it’s nearly impossible for Catherine to open a bakery with financial or emotional support. No one would ever approve of her dreams, especially her parents. But everything changes when Jest, the court joker, makes his way into Catherine’s life. As she falls for the charming and witty commoner, Catherine begins to doubt the lavish life her parents have planned out for her even more. Is she really to marry the silly, bumbling King of Hearts, or can she find a way to open her bakery and end up with Jest? Can Catherine have her cake and eat it too?
This book gave me all the giggles, thrills, and fever dreams of Lewis Carroll's original novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and I feel that Marissa Meyer has truly done the 1865 novel justice! Everything is described beautifully and accurately. If Heartless were an official prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I would not doubt it. Meyer develops the story so that Catherine is sweet and hopeful in the beginning, yet eventually ends up as the cruel Queen of Hearts because of a series of significant events. Far from hating Catherine, I felt that her motives were absolutely understandable and sympathized with her. The book offers an entirely new perspective concerning the queen’s temperament.
Not to mention, this book is a food lover’s paradise—from luscious lemon tarts to macarons that are “sweet and delicate and smooth, with just a tiny crunch from the meringue, and a subtle floral moment from the distilled rose water,” you won’t be disappointed by the descriptions of dessert!
The only thing I would note is the unnatural start of Catherine and Jest’s relationship. After just one encounter with Jest, Catherine begins to fall in love, which seems very rushed. Aside from that, though, the chemistry and dialogue between the two characters are just right. (Oops, wrong fairy tale!)
The secondary characters are irresistible as well. The Cheshire Cat is hands down my favorite; while Catherine thinks him to be gossipy and unpredictable, the magical cat proves he is loyal, companionable, and surprisingly wise in multiple instances. Additionally, Hatta, who is the Mad Hatter in the original story, is interesting because he seems very confident and mysterious, yet there is anxiety and fear beneath his words. These secondary characters are written well enough to be brilliant on their own, but not so idiosyncratic that they take away from the main characters, Catherine and Jest.
All in all, Heartless contains everything its readers wish for: romance, enigma, sass, suspense, and magic. This book will fill you up just as much as one of Catherine’s delicious treats.
Heartless by Marissa Meyer. Feiwel and Friends, 2016. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!