This is the tale of how the Queen of Hearts became the cold and heartless character of Through the Looking Glass fame.
Origin stories and fairy tale re-tellings are where its at. I’ve lost track of how many books I’ve read that examine well-known stories from a different point of view. Marissa Meyer does an excellent job maintaining the whimsy of the first book while weaving her new story in-between.
I’ll confess- I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Heartless as much as I did.
A few months ago, I read her Lunar Chronicles and I was sorely disappointed with it. Meyer is playing upon all of her strengths here. She tells the story of two or three characters rather than a cast of twelve or more. Whenever her character’s conversations threatened to bog down the action, they were cut short.
The pace is excellent. The tale kept me guessing. And the ending was something to be enjoyed rather than eye-rollingly trite. (Unlike some other books by this author that I won’t sully this review by mentioning.)
Catherine is the daughter of the Marquis and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove. She loves to bake and dreams of the bakery shop that she will surely one day own with her dear friend and maid, Mary Ann. Unfortunately, Catherine’s mother has other plans.
I liked that Meyer made Catherine both a product of nature and destiny. See the description of Catherine’s mother: “She was often a warm, loving woman, and Cath’s father, the Marquis, doted on her incessantly, but Cath was all too familiar with her mood swings. All cooing and delighted one moment and screaming at the top of her lungs the next. Despite her tiny stature, she had a booming voice and a particular glare that could make even a lion’s heart shrivel beneath it.” pgs 14-15. Sounds familiar, no?
The King of Hearts and his court of cards, talking animals and other magical creatures were also similar to the original book: “The King was a sweet man. A simple man. A happy man, which was important, as a happy king made for a happy kingdom. He simply wasn’t a clever man.” pg 26.
One of my favorite characters, the Cheshire Cat, appears in this too:“She slumped against the baker’s table. “I never dreamed such a thing could happen here.” Cheshire’s yellow eyes slitted as he held her gaze for one beat, two. Then he began to unravel from the tip of his tail, a slow unwinding of his stripes. “These things do not happen in dreams, dear girl,” he said, vanishing up to his neck. “They happen only in nightmares.” pg 93. Dun, dun, daaaaaaah!
And also, the merry, merry unbirthday singer and snappy dresser himself, Hatta, also known as the perhaps-not-yet-mad Hatter: “Was he mad already? She couldn’t help inspecting him, newly speculative and curious. He didn’t seem mad. No more mad than anyone else she knew. No more mad than she was herself. They were all a little mad, if one was to be forthright.” pg 222. Harkens back to the original text: “We’re all mad here.”, doesn’t it.
We are introduced to an entirely new character, the King’s joker, a man named Jest. At the beginning of the story, Catherine finds herself dreaming of a man with yellow eyes and guess who matches that description?
Mix all of these together and you have a great young adult fantasy. Recommended for anyone who is curious as to why a raven is like a writing desk.
Thanks for reading!