What makes a girl go from dreaming of a bakery to screaming, “Off with their heads!” is the premise behind Marissa Meyer’s new standalone fantasy, Heartless, tells the “origin story,” per se, of Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts.
Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.
Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.
Okay, so. I have a confession to make. This was actually my first Marissa Meyer book. I KNOW! I know! I’ve heard amazing things about the Lunar Chronicles, and my friends continue to hound me about reading them. And I fully intend to! But you know how it goes … so many books, so little time.
That said, I really did enjoy Heartless. Here’s what I liked about it:
1. Origin story! I love a good origin story, and especially for a villain as iconic as the Queen of Hearts. As Heartless begins, Catherine is a really wonderful young woman, with dreams of independence and enterprise. I was dying to see how she went from an idealistic baker to becoming the Queen of Hearts — and what a transformation it is! It was believable and understandable, and by the time you have gone through this story with Catherine, you’ll be right beside her thinking, “Yes. Off with their heads!”
2. Tribute to Alice. There are so many wonderful little tributes to the Alice in Wonderland story woven throughout Heartless, some more obvious than others, but all of them delightful. Hunting for these became one of my favorite parts of the book, and I loved seeing the different ways Meyer incorporated these moments into the book.
3. Jest. Ah, the Joker. What a romantic foil he provides! There’s definitely a lot of romantic tension in Heartless, as Catherine fights her own feelings and struggles with whether to follow her heart or give in to her family’s wishes. Jest certainly fills the role of bad-boy-but-really-a-good-guy suitor nicely.
4. More Than Romance. As much as Jest can make you swoon, Heartless is about so much more than romance. Because what Catherine wants more than anything — more than any romance or marriage — is to open a bake shop. She wants freedom and independence, but she also wants to make her family proud. And sure, a little romance wouldn’t hurt either, so long as she can have those other things, too. These fully realized wishes and dreams are what make Catherine such a great character; she’s multi-layered and flawed and you genuinely feel for her.
5. Heartbroken by Heartless. Look, let’s just be real clear. This is the origin story of the Queen of Hearts. Something has to turn this hopeful baker into one of literature’s most iconic villains. You should know going into this book that things do not end well. That’s not a spoiler; it’s a fact. And yet even knowing this, I found myself hoping and wondering and thinking, “No! There could still be a way!” And the ultimate ending is so deliciously twisted and heartbreaking, that by the time Catherine has become this great villain, you are rooting her on.
If you’re ready to fall down the rabbit hole and discover this unique spin on a classic character, Heartless is in stores now.