Year Published: 2016 - Macmillan Children's Books.
Genres: Young adult / fairy tale retelling / romance / fantasy
Source: Thank you to Pan Macmillan SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review!
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — 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 yet-unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with delectable pastries and confections. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next Queen. At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the king's marriage proposal, she 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.
I buddy read this book with the lovely Aneesa @ A Crave For Books. You can read her review HERE.
I've never read Meyer before, but considering that The Lunar Chronicles are so popular, Meyer's skill is so renowned, and I love retellings, I thought Heartless would easily win me over. Unfortunately, I was extremely disappointed. But I still liked some aspects.
The prose is dreamy, relaxing, and easy to read. It induced a warm, bubbly feeling inside of me, and the delightful humorous moments frequently made me smile. The story is innocent and simplistic, and that soothing lightness effortlessly swept me along.
The foreshadowing is excellent. When the horrifying climax finally came, it made the wait seem worth it, and I could appreciate the clues Meyer had scattered in previous chapters.
The descriptions of food are AMAZING. I was craving lemon tarts throughout the novel, and Meyer's descriptions of all the sweet treats are absolutely ravishing. Quite frankly, I think I would've enjoyed a book just about the food. Or a Heartless recipe book... (give me credit, please Marissa ;).
I loved the ending. Finally, it got exciting and horrifying and SOB, I also cried my heart out. It's an example of the darkness the whole book should have had.
“Sometimes your heart is the only thing worth listening to.”
But the fact that Heartless is a light, enchanting tale, is also part of my reason for disliking it. It's too light and fluffy; it squanders the dark potential I imagine Wonderland brimming with, and I was disappointed with the lack of "madness". This is a tale about the Queen of Hearts prior to her becoming the Queen, and although this sounds terribly morbid, I expected and hoped for a lot more creepiness, violence, darkness, and chopping of heads.
The setting and world-building are incredibly lacking. It has a sort of Victorian England vibe, but that combined with the fantastical elements just seemed wrong. The world-building is very vague, and I wanted to know more about how the normal people lived and how they earned money and how they ruled and functioned, and all of that was left in the dark. It's fine on the surface, but when I tried to dig deeper into the world I found it hollow.
The magical elements of Wonderland felt out of place. They didn't feel natural, and the magical tree growing in Cath's bedroom was an example of this. I just couldn't suspend disbelief - every magical occurance, fantastical creature or bizarre object felt just like that: bizarre. It didn't feel natural; maybe that's also due in part to the Victorian England atmosphere? I don't know. The fantasy just felt forced - like Meyer should've either gone the whole way, or scrapped the magic and made it a Victorian story. Halfway didn't work.
The characters are a real mix for me. In general, the supporting cast are stereotypical, boring and entirely unoriginal. Cath's parents irritated me out of my mind, and I wanted to scream at her dad to just stand up to her infuriating mother. He really needed to speak up; it was ridiculous.
Jest was a swoony hero, but he wasn't particularly original either. He was sweet and cute and a knight-in-shining-armour, but although his agenda was cloaked in mystery until right near the end of the book, I frequently wanted to scream at him to just "fight for Catherine! You say you love her, so don't give up! Don't let your fear of the King or your embarrassment of your low status let you chicken out!" Yes, he protected her and did all the cliched things a sterotypical prince would do, but I still wanted to kick a unconditional spine into his back.
On the surface, I liked the romance. He and Cath are very sweet and adorable together, but they definitely aren't anything amazing.
I still can't decide what I think of Cath. She isn't a warrior or a badass, but I found that refreshing at first; her femininity and baking skills allowed her to be a girl with a quiet strength, and initially I liked that. But then her character just went downhill. She started doing stupid things and becoming more and more of a damsel in distress. For example, Jest tells her run when they're attacked by the Jabberwock, but instead she stands there: dumb and blank and terrified. She frequently has to be saved and rescued, and it took till right near the end of the book for her to tell her parents what she really thought about the King, etc. And the King. Oh my gosh. The story would've been a lot shorter if she'd just had the guts to say "no" to his proposal from the start. I wanted to SCREAM at her to just stand up for herself, and it was absolutely infuriating. She could also use a spine.
And to show her selfishness, there's the example of the Lion's death. He saved her because she was risking her life in front of the Jabberwock to save the Turtle, and while that isn't bad, her reaction to his death was. She was all sad and mournful, etc, but she never actually admitted that it was perhaps her fault he died! She was so self-absorbed and totally oblivious to her role in his death. It was annoying to say the least.
But on the plus side, I really liked watching Cath's insanity take hold towards the end of the book. That was terrific. I just wish she'd had that much personality earlier.
I really am torn about this book. On the one hand, Heartless is a dreamy, relaxing tale sprinkled with feeling and humour and overflowing with divine descriptions of food.
But on the other hand, its boring, stereotypical characters, shallow plot and ultimately weak heroine make for a mediocre story that I believe totally wasted the rich, dark potential of Wonderland.