By Marissa Meyer
Narrated by Rebecca Soler
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Duration: 14 hours 34 minutes
Genre: YA Fantasy
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland—the infamous Queen of Hearts—she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love. Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.
Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. 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 an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.
In her first stand-alone teen novel, the New York Times-bestselling author dazzles us with a prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Anyone who even remotely knows me knows I am infatuated (maybe unhealthily) with all that is Wonderland. Picking up Heartless was a gimme, but finding the time to read it was becoming a challenge. I do happen to own a physical copy that I had originally pre-ordered. However, between my neverending TBR and constant bouts of vertigo, audio seemed to be the best solution.
“A heart, once stolen, can never be taken back.”
Heartless takes us back to a time before Alice tumbles down the rabbit hole into the infamous Wonderland. We are introduced to Catherine, a young girl with a passion for baking and a heart that desires true love. Courted by the King but longing only for the court joker Jest, Cath begins a forbidden affair that may have disastrous outcomes. This is the story of how a girl in love will rise to the throne and eventually become known as The Queen of Hearts.
Characters were a mixed bag for me in Heartless. This is a fast paced retelling that incorporates the familiar denizens of Wonderland to provide us with a prequel. We are given a rare opportunity to dive behind the scenes and take a look at the “ingredients” that lead up to the final cake, AKA the Queen of Hearts. Catherine is our protagonist. She is young and full of ambition, driven by her desires to open her very own bakery with her best friend and household servant Mary Ann. But when the King decides to court Cath, she soon finds herself facing an endless list of obstacles that will not only challenge her aspirations but her heart that belongs to Jest, the court Joker. I have to be honest, while I appreciated our heroine’s emotions and situation, there was a part of me that continued to feel a tinge of annoyance. She knew what she wanted, but I felt her voice and actions were weak at times. There was this ongoing attempt to approach matters logically that had me pulling hair at times. I did not dislike her, but I couldn’t help but feel she was her own worst enemy.
Additional characters included a customary entourage ranging from the Cheshire Cat to the Mad Hatter. We are even offered an extension into Wonderland’s occupants with the introduction of some new faces such as Jest and Raven. There is no shortage of bizarre and eccentric behavior that offers a bit of welcomed predictability.
The plot was straight forward, lacking some of the imagination I have come to expect from Meyers, but that is not to say it disappoints. This is the making of a Queen that will come to reign terror on Wonderland, and for all purposes that story has been accomplished. However, it is told with little emphasis on the actual world. World building or lack of is where I struggled the most with Heartless. As an avid fan of Alice in Wonderland, I have always held firm to the idea that this is a tale that has always relied on the whimsical world to succeed. After all, it was the time down the rabbit hole that added a real element of magic to Alice’s adventures. But that constant need to explore and uncover the oddities that we are accustomed to was absent. This may be a rare case of the author actually placing too much faith in the reader’s knowledge. Wonderland is meant to adventurous and immersive. This was more character driven and I missed that facet.
The story telling and writing is every bit reminiscent of what I have come to expect when reading Meyer. It flows with a steady narration that facilitates a fluid and fast paced experience with a few unexpected twists. It is fun and effortless. I appreciated that while there is a love story contained within our protagonist’s tale, it unfolds slowly with many elements that prove to be more realistic than the typical instalove you encounter in many retellings.
The audio narration took a few chapters to settle into, but eventually came into its own. It is my understanding that Rebecca Soler also narrated the Lunar Chronicles. I found her tone and pacing to be ideal in terms of the story, but struggled with some of the dialog. However, this is always my complaint with audio. I enter with this unrealistic expectation that each character should have a truly unique voice (i.e. like 20 narrators for one story). I do feel that Soler eventually achieved this individuality to an extent and gave a life to Wonderland’s inhabitants that ultimately provided an enjoyable listen.
While I was surprised with the lack of world construction and desired more of an imaginative approach to Cath’s story, it was still a solid one that managed to paint a history that fits well into the grand scheme of things. This is a must read for all fans of Wonderland and retellings that offers satisfying back story, and it successfully provides more depth to a beloved classic.