Heartless by Marissa Meyer ~Audio Book Review

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Heartless 
By Marissa Meyer
Narrated by Rebecca Soler
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Duration: 14 hours 34 minutes
ISBN13: 9781427267948
Genre: YA Fantasy

Synopsis:

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.


my-thought

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.

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The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

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The Reluctant Queen 
(The Queens of Renthia #2)
By Sarah Beth Durst
Released 7/4/17
Publisher: Harper Voyager
ISBN13: 9780062413352
Pages: 368
Genre: YA Fantasy

Synopsis:

Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . . And those spirits want to kill you.
It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns.

Not long ago, Daleina used her strength and skill to survive those spirits and assume the royal throne. Since then, the new queen has kept the peace and protected the humans of her land. But now for all her power, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she leaves the world before a new heir is ready, the spirits that inhabit her beloved realm will run wild, destroying her cities and slaughtering her people.

Naelin is one such person, and she couldn’t be further removed from the Queen—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her world is her two children, her husband, and the remote village tucked deep in the forest that is her home, and that’s all she needs. But when Ven, the Queens champion, passes through the village, Naelin’s ambitious husband proudly tells him of his wife’s ability to control spirits—magic that Naelin fervently denies. She knows that if the truth of her abilities is known, it will bring only death and separation from those she loves.

But Ven has a single task: to find the best possible candidate to protect the people of Aratay. He did it once when he discovered Daleina, and he’s certain he’s done it again. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.


my-thought

*As always this is a review for a sequel. I will try to omit potential spoilers, but recommend visiting at a later time if you have yet to read the first in the series and plan to do so. You can find my review for the first book The Queen of Blood here.

I only recently read and reviewed the The Queen of Blood (The Queens of Renthia #1) in eager anticipation of exploring a new series. I had this lovely arc in my hands and simply knew it was going to be worth my time. While appropriate for the YA audience, an ensemble of well developed characters, plot and world building continues to provide an experience that I feel can be adequately appreciated by all.

Now the Queen of Aratay, Daleina discovers that she has the False Death. Now she struggles to conceal a secret that is killing her and threatening her country. She must find a successor to the throne immediately. But what happens when the only person who can possibly help refuses to do so? Naelin has hidden her powers in fear of losing her quiet, content life with her children. But now she may have to give up everything she has fought for to protect that very life. With an impending invasion, time if of the essence.

The Reluctant Queen is a rare case of a sequel surpassing its predecessor. Packed with a sense of urgency and delivered with a few remarkable new characters, it expands on an intricate story of magic and survival in the best of ways. The plot is familiar but more evolved. We still have a queen who is responsible for maintaining the balance of life and spirits. Now that element has been beautifully heightened by Daleina’s failing health and the dire need for an heir.

Nailen is absolutely stellar in terms of female protagonist. She offers a unique facet with her older age and two children that I found slightly relatable and at times highly admirable. Her motherly instincts drive her and ultimately prove to be her true strength. Forthright in her feelings against training to be an heir, she is humble and supplies a refreshing perspective on life in Aratay. Familiar characters also make a welcomed return as Ven is tasked with finding a new candidate and the very queen he trained is facing uncertainty.

The world building progresses as we are given a glimpse into the castle and throne room. This provides further exploration into how reliant life on Renthia is to having a queen. The magic in The Reluctant Queen continues to prove its worth with a direct yet imaginative system that focuses on nature and its manipulation. I hold a fondness for the emphasis of female power in this book. I love that the magic is gender exclusive. While I am aware that aspect might not fall on the favor of all, I felt it enhanced the female leads and provided an extra dose of originality.

The writing is all that I have come to expect from my time with The Queen of Blood. A fluid yet light prose creates a fast paced read that never feels too dense or complex yet manages to convey a story full of depth. Again, I am recommending this series to all fans of fantasy and magic. My anticipation to continue exploring this series easily rivals that of any past encounters during the last year or two!

*I would like to thank the publisher for this copy. This review is my own, unbiased opinion.

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The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

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The Queen of Blood
(The Queens of Renthia #1)
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Kindle ASIN: B01ARKV3T4
Pages: 368
Genre: YA Fantasy

Synopsis:

An idealistic young student and a banished warrior become allies in a battle to save their realm in this first book of a mesmerizing epic fantasy series, filled with political intrigue, violent magic, malevolent spirits, and thrilling adventure

Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .

But the spirits that reside within this land want to rid it of all humans. One woman stands between these malevolent spirits and the end of humankind: the queen. She alone has the magical power to prevent the spirits from destroying every man, woman, and child. But queens are still just human, and no matter how strong or good, the threat of danger always looms.

With the position so precarious, young women are chosen to train as heirs. Daleina, a seemingly quiet academy student, is under no illusions as to her claim to the throne, but simply wants to right the wrongs that have befallen the land. Ven, a disgraced champion, has spent his exile secretly fighting against the growing number of spirit attacks. Joining forces, these daring partners embark on a treacherous quest to find the source of the spirits’ restlessness—a journey that will test their courage and trust, and force them to stand against both enemies and friends to save their land . . . before it’s bathed in blood.


my-thought

The Queen of Blood was a welcomed surprise in the midst of trying to combat a terrible episode of mood reading. You know that kind where your mood changes every 15 minutes so you simply cannot stay focused on one book. Well the Queen of Blood turned out to be the needed antidote.

Inhabited by humans and hostile spirits, Renthia’s 5 countries that are each governed by a queen. She is charged with maintaining the peace and keeping hostile spirits at bay. These spirits consist of wood, earth, wind, water and fire. While responsible for creating the very homes the humans dwell in, they are also the biggest threat to humankind. They are untamed and lethal. Life is reliant on each queen’s ability to fully contain their wild nature and protect her people. During a time of increased restlessness among the spirits, young Daleina soon discovers that she has the ability to command them. When she is whisked away to the academy to hone her skills she is unexpectedly selected to be trained as an heir under Ven, a fallen champion of the queen. Together Daleina and Ven will find that they are at the center of a huge battle to tame the land and settle the unrest.

I found myself instantly committed to Daleina. She is young, energetic and equal parts smart and realistic but never all-knowing or over powered. It was easy to appreciate her weaknesses and strengths. She struggles to grip her newfound skills and life while maintaining a necessary amount of confidence. The end result is a character who beautifully evolves into one of great fondness and admiration.

Ven is a fallen champion who finds himself once again for responsible for selecting and training a candidate to possibly become the heir of the throne. He is devout and fierce while exposing a very humane side through glimpses of his moral struggles in regards to his relationship with the Queen. Fervent about protecting the land, he provides a complementary and welcomed perspective to the Queen of Blood.

The plot and world are the bread and butter of this element laden fantasy. The author has ingeniously constructed a story that relies on the land to flourish. Together they work in unison to create an immensely absorbing adventure that is expansive and lustrous. While the magic system is simplistic in theory, what it lacks in complexity is easily forgiven with its rare distinctiveness.

The crisp writing is invigorating and inviting. Pages turn effortlessly as alternating, interdependent point of views between Ven and Daleina offer a fully encompassing read. The Queen of Blood is saturated with beauty and darkness, producing a gratifying story that caters perfectly to fans of high magic fantasy.

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