Published by Pan Macmillan Australia on November 8th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fairy Tales & Folklore, Fantasy
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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 favourite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King's marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. 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.
I love The Lunar Chronicles and I love food, so I was pretty excited to read Heartless. Going into the book, it’s best to detach yourself from the Lunar Chronicles, because it’s more of a straight retelling of Alice in Wonderland than a story that’s inspired by fairy tales.
From the Mad Hatter’s tea party, to the invisible Chesire Cat and the rose gardens of the palace, the world and characters are incredibly faithful to the original. We already know what to expect of the quirky characters and the bizarre setting. Because of this, the world building didn’t feel terribly unique to me, even with Meyer’s imaginative storytelling.
We already know what the Queen of Hearts is like. But how did she turn out that way? Cath is a sweet and obedient girl who simply wants to make her parents happy, but also wants to pursue her lifelong dream of owning a bakery. However, when the King pursues her to be his bride and she can’t think of anything worse, she starts undergoing an internal turmoil when it comes to expectations vs reality.
We’ve all struggled with parental expectations and may have rebelled against them, and that’s exactly what happens with Catherine in Heartless. While other girls dream of royalty and marriage, I loved how Cath’s ambitions extended beyond this. However, refusing him is unheard of and she struggles against parental and public expectations when it comes to this. I really felt for Cath as copes with unwanted advances from the King, overbearing parents and disappearing dreams as she tried everything in her power to do the right thing.
I wasn’t surprised when she found solace in Jest, the handsome, charming and chivalrous Court Jester who understands what she’s going through. This is where the book took a dive for me – it heavily centres on the romance and I wasn’t convinced. While his back story had potential, I found him to be a rather bland love interest who we didn’t really get to know well. I’m pretty sure we weren’t meant to, but I also ended up feeling sorry for the King as the two courted each other over stolen glances and borrowed time. Cath was pretty much leading him on at this point to avoid disappointing her parents and it was actually kind of selfish.
This is why she enjoyed baking. A good dessert could make her feel like she’d created joy at the tips of her fingers. Suddenly, the people around the table were no longer strangers. They were friends and confidantes, and she was sharing with them her magic.
Inevitably, the book takes a darker turn with Cath’s descent into evil. While the catalyst to her change felt a bit rushed, I liked seeing her turn and everyone’s reactions to her callousness, especially in contrast to what she was like before. There’s also the sinister threat of the Jabberwock in the background, who threatens to eat the townspeople. It’s the mystery surrounding this that kept me reading; I wanted to know whether it was going to be defeated and the twist was a welcome one.
Heartless definitely made me hungry, as the descriptions of baked goods are abundant and had me drooling throughout the book. I loved how throughout the book, Cath seeks out ingredients for her recipes and how her talent for baking was pretty much her superpower. This book will make you crave everything from spiced pumpkin pies to layered cakes and lemon tarts.
As an origin story of the Queen of Hearts, Heartless stayed faithful to the original Alice in Wonderland and tells us a very different story when it comes to her past. With a mystery, romance that I wasn’t convinced on and delicious baking descriptions, there were parts of this book that I definitely enjoyed and other parts that I wasn’t too keen on. I definitely think if you’re a big fan of the original that you’ll love this one, but don’t go in expecting it to be the next Lunar Chronicles.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for sending me a review copy!
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