Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer


Macmillan Children's Books

Publication Date: 09.02.2017 (UK edition)
ISBN: 9781509814138
Number of Pages: 450


Her and Mary Ann. Their bakery. And ... him. Entertaining their customers, or returning home after a day of making merriment at the castle.

It was so absurd she immediately chastised herself for the thought. She barely knew the court joker and had no reason to think she would ever be anything to her beyond a couple of unusual dreams.
And yet, if she was only a simple baker, and not the daugher of a marquess, and not the King's intended ...

Heartless, Marissa Meyer, P74. 

Contains Spoilers

A sugar-hit for those craving more Wonderland, Heartless is rich in detail, but ultimately left me wanting more in terms of the plot.

In Marissa Meyer’s own words, this is an ‘origin story’ about the Queen of Hearts, in the style of Wicked. We start with Cath, would rather open a bakery with her friend Mary Ann than marry the King of Hearts.  And then there is Jest, the Court Joker with the lemon-coloured eyes. When Cath dreams about him, a lemon tree grows in her bedroom.

Then the Jabberwock attacks. It seems that everyone but Cath wants to turn their heads away and continue the endless round of tea parties. Why deal with the monster when you can pretend it does not exist?

So, that is where we begin. Meyer’s strength is her world building. Elements of Lewis Carrol’s tale are reworked into a Wonderland which is original, and holds our attention. Do not underestimate this. Wonderland has been re-imagined in every art form conceivable for the past 150 years. I was particularly interested in the extended world Meyer imagines – the kingdom of Hearts, where Cath lives, is separated from the kingdom of Chess by the Looking Glass. Jest is on a mission in Wonderland. If he succeeds, the eternal war in Chess might come to an end.

This is where the novel stopped working for me. There are too many plot lines, and Cath spends too much time quibbling about whether she will marry the King. The third time Jest swept her away from a near-marriage-proposal I nearly put the book down. Which would have been a pity, because the plot is there. It is just lost behind 150 extra pages.

Given we know she ends up as the Queen of Hearts, I would have liked to see more of the time she spent with the guy she could never have. When we do see the couple together, the attention is on Jest’s role in Chess. In fact, the plot seems to build up to Cath playing a major role in the wider Wonderland. At one point, it seems we are heading towards a trilogy about the politics and wars of Chess, then the whole plot-line is dropped. And for what? So we can swoon about the role of fate? There was nothing satisfying about that when we were heading towards adventure and resolution.

Likewise, the Jabberwock hovers on the edge of the story until the novel’s resolution, which relies heavily on the fact there had-to-be-more-going-on-than-that. Before that, Cath is the only character who shows any interest in dealing with the Jabberwock, and even she does little more than respond during the moment of attack.

As for the bakery … there is never any need for Cath to fulfill her dream. Nothing hinges on it. The reader is given no reason to care whether Cath gets her bakery other than her clear talent and willingness to defy her parents.

As with eating a slice of tart, my satisfaction in the plot was never more than a sugar fix. 

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