When it comes to books, I’m a generally positive person. I recognize that different people like different types of books, and know that not every book is going to be for me. I accept this as a given. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not disappointed when a book I anticipate is going to be wonderful falls completely flat for me. Such was the case with Marissa Meyer’s Heartless. Now, I am a big fan of Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, which includes loose, twisted retellings of several fairy tales. There were great plots, she made interesting choices, and populated the books with great characters, including strong females. I was looking for more of the same with Heartless. I was sorely disappointed.
Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
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 top open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be queen.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets the 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.
Just the last sentence of this is enough to make me want to read this book. I expected a fantastical tale about the Red Queen, complete with many murdery cries of “Off with their heads!”. This was not that tale.
Let’s talk about “Cath”. (Ugh. Unless you are the Simon Snow devotee, this name is not OK.) This is one of the most useless, spineless main characters I have ever encountered in a book. She has a dream to be a baker and run her own shop, which is contrary to everyone else’s plans for her to become queen. Guess what happens. (If you guessed that she runs away, defies everyone who wants to make her into something she’s not, and opens the best bakery in all of Wonderland, you’d be 100% wrong.) It only took me about 27 seconds to realize that Cath lacks agency and will, and I spent the entire book being frustrated at her victim attitude. She doesn’t make things happen, she lets things happen to her. And then she sits and whines about it. Then, when things get crazy, blood starts flying, and Cath figures out her terrible decisions are the cause, she blames someone else, which just infuriated me. And I’m supposed to believe that this girl who spent 7/8 of the book being weak and whiny suddenly turns into the cold, cruel, imperious Red Queen? Sorry, not buying it.
There were a couple of things I did like about this book. Cheshire was a wonderfully written character, and by far one of my favorites. I like how he embodies arrogance and feigns a complete lack of care for anything going on around him, but says the most profound things at just the right times. I also really liked Jest and his pure heart. He is loving and optimistic, and true. The “world” of Wonderland was well-done, and just mad enough to be fun, but not too nonsensical where it feels like Meyer is trying too hard. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of Wonderland. More mad tea parties, more checkerboard cake, more Jabberwock, just more.
There were also some great lines in here. Meyer has a beautiful way with words, and if I couldn’t really appreciate the story, I can at least appreciate her wordsmithy. She has a very lyrical way of writing, which is a must for any Wonderland story, I think. One of my favorite phrases turns out to be a prophecy, and a bit of a foreshadow.
Murderer, martyr, monarch, mad.
Overall, ironically, I think what this book is missing is heart. It didn’t make me feel anything other than annoyance for Cath, and I didn’t care enough about Jest or anyone else to be really invested in what happened. I had high hopes for this one, but it really let me down. I almost want there to be another installment, because I think now that Cath is the Red Queen, I might like her better, and would care about the continuing story of her being stabby and evil, but, then again, maybe not.
If you’re interested in fairy tale retellings, here are some of my favorites:
Cinder by Marissa Meyer – this reimagines the Cinderella story with a cyborg and a moon colony.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge – a lovely retelling of Beauty and the Beast where Beauty is an assassin trained from birth to kill the Beast.
Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson – a Southern gothic-set version of the Bluebeard fairy tale with a mystery, and romance, and a lot of suspense.
Tune in tomorrow for Top 10 Tuesday!