Off with her head!
Lunar Chronicles author Marissa Meyer is back at it again with her clever and romantic YA fairytale-retelling ways. Her latest novel, Heartless, tells the story of Lady Catherine Pinkerton, dutchess, aspiring baker, and the future Queen of Hearts.
Yes. That Queen of Hearts.
I’ll admit, fairytales are not typically my thing, but I have grown to trust Marissa Meyer over the years and she always manages to sway me. In fact, this book even had me frantically re-watching Disney’s Alice in Wonderland at four AM on a weekday just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything important. From this experience I gathered two very important bits of information. One, that hand drawn animation from the 1950s holds up surprisingly well, and two, that Marissa Meyer has an uncanny knack for elevating and transforming her source material. She knows exactly when to place a direct quote when to focus on her original characters. She knows exactly how to pay homage and fill in the gaps without stepping all over the original story and muddying everything up and she always manages to do it in a unique and creative way that serves her story rather than the one she is drawing from. It’s all so intricate and layered that I can just picture her frantically sorting through piles of research and notes trying to get it all just right. Good thing too, because we all know that if you bite off more than you can chew in Wonderland you’re bound to grow larger than a house.
The world of Hearts (*Coughs* Wonderland) is full of shiny people and talking cards and anthropomorphic animals; lions who fight jabberwocks and warthogs who fall in love with unattractive girls and lemon trees plucked straight out of your dreams. It’s a dizzying and magical place that somehow feels completely normal after the first dozen pages or so. The kingdom is quite strange, yes, but it is not completely without logic, and since our protagonist understands that logic, it’s easy enough to just go along with.
Speaking of our protagonist, dream-filled and starry-eyed Catherine Pinkerton is about as far from the villainous Queen of Hearts as you can get. While reading, you can barely even equate the two in your mind. In fact, the first obvious sign of her imminent transformation doesn’t even come until nearly 300 pages in. Knowing Cath’s ultimate fate before ever reading a word about her fills the book with this creeping sense of impending doom that only increases the farther into it you get. Despite knowing better, you can’t help but root for this girl. Her intentions are good. Her heart is in the right place. All she really wants is to own a bakery and make people happy, but you know that she is never going to get the chance, and that revelation, especially toward the end of the book is absolutely soul-crushing.
My biggest critique is that I found the first half of the book incredibly slow-going, probably a result of already knowing the ending. This was not a book that I could read in one sitting the way I wanted to. I kept putting it down and getting distracted by other things. The ever-present ‘waiting for something horrible to happen’ feeling probably didn’t help this matter either. It’s like the literary equivalent of a minefield. However, I am happy to report that the payoff was definitely worth muddling through.
So yeah, overall a really fascinating and creative book that tells the origin story of a horrific villain wrapped up in a story about a plucky teenage girl. Heartless is definitely a fitting name seeing as it will rip your heart out of your chest and stomp all over it. I can’t say if Lewis Carroll would have approved, but I certainly do.