Review: Heartless

Heartless

by Marissa Meyer

“Cath shivered and had the strangest urge to give him a nervous wave. An acknowledgment that yes, she was aware that her dress was unduly red. But by the time her hand had lifted, the Joker’s attention had skipped on. She dropped her hand and exhaled. Once the hoop had made a full circle, a ghost smile lifted the corners of the stranger’s lips. He titled his head. The bells jingled. There was an intake of breath from the watchful crowd. “Ladies. Gentleman.” He spoke with precision. “Your Most Illustrious Majesty.” The King bounced on his toes like a child waiting for the Christmas feast. The Joker swung himself up in one fluid motion so he was standing inside the hoop. It spun another lazy half turn. They all listened, mesmerized by the hesitant creak of the rope that attached it to the chandelier.

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?””

Have you ever wondered how the Queen of Hearts of Wonderland came to be so…heartless?

Have you ever asked yourself why the White Rabbit depends so much on a mystery woman named Mary Ann?

And how did the Mad Hatter get so mad?

Marissa Meyer, author of other such twisted tales as Fairest, Cinder, and Scarlett has tackled the Kingdom of Hearts in her new novel, Heartless. The story chronicles the life of one Catherine Pinkerton: the heiress to Rock Turtle Cove, a teenager who dreams of being a world class baker, a whimsical thinker, a devoted friend, and a vivaciously happy soul who lives under the thumb of two determined parents.

The story begins as Catherine and her handmaiden, Mary Anne, prepare for a party given by the King of Hearts, a tiny and silly little man who loves sweets – especially if said sweets come from a certain dark haired girl from Rock Turtle Cove. Catherine finds the attention of the King to be a bother, but she must do her duty by her parents and attend the soiree in style. In preparation for the gathering, she is busily at work in the kitchen, much to her mother’s constant digress, creating pastries with all the flair and pizzaz of a most dedicated confectioner. The famed Cheshire Cat is in attendance (both with and without his portly body) as she gets herself elbow deep in flour and sugar, and the reader soon realizes that the fanciful feline is somewhat of a constant companion for the young lady.

While in attendance at the party, Cath is swept into a magical and ridiculous situation with the new resident Joker, an attractive and mysterious rouge named Jest. She finds herself enraptured by his riddles and games, and also finds him a much preferred companion to that of the attentive and annoying King of Hearts.

“So long as we’re sharing secrets,” she said, “may I ask how you did it? The trick with Mr. Rabbit?”

“What trick?”

“You know. When you pulled him out of Jack’s hat.”

Jest frowned, his expression mildly concerned. “Sweetest Lady Pinkerton, I fear you’ve gone mad in this short time we’ve known each other.”

She peered up at him. “Have I?”

“To imagine that I pulled a rabbit out of a hat?” He stooped closer, his forehead conspiratorially close to hers, and whispered, “That would be impossible.”

She smothered a grin, trying to morph her expression into something equally devious. “As it so happens, Mr. Jest, I’ve sometimes come to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” 

While Catherine tries her very best not to get caught up in the enigmatic and alluring ways of Jest, she finds it difficult to contain her focus. Mary Ann, her close friend and business partner, tries fervently to keep her on track. The girls are trying to find a way to open up a bakery of their own but the task is proving to be difficult one. Cath’s parents are determined to capitalize on the affections the King has for their daughter, and will not entertain her dreams of being a business owner. The girls struggle to find investors and are feeling frantic, as the storefront of their dreams is about to become available. The current curious tenant is soon to be vacating the premises, taking his shop full of shoes elsewhere. Readers will enjoy the appearances of familiar characters, such as Mr. Caterpillar.

“He was staring at her and Mary Ann. He had not touched the boots on the counter, though coming closer she could see that he was wearing an assortment of shoes himself – all different styles of boots and slippers taking up his many small feet. “Who,” he said lazily, “are you?”

Despite Mary Ann’s and Cath’s greatest efforts, they cannot seem to gain any ground with their bakery. The biggest problem is coming from the castle – a determined and smitten little King who will do anything to attract the attentions of his most prized subject. Cath does her best to thwart his advances, but she is at a disadvantage due to her position as only daughter of her ambitious parents. Catherine also finds herself caught up in the romance that the forbidden relationship with the Joker brings; her eyes constantly searching him out while in the presence of the King, and she soon finds that Jest’s heart is going in the same direction as hers. However, they have no idea how to remove the well-meaning but obnoxious obstacle that is in front of them.

“The King was still clapping enthusiastically. “That was wonderful! Absolutely wonderful! Lady Pinkerton, wasn’t that wonderful?”

She cleared her throat and conceded. “It was indeed. What is the song? This was the first I’ve heard it.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know, my lady,” said Jest. “It came to me just now.” Her eyes widened. Impossible. “Perhaps you are my muse,” he added, and the joking tone had returned. “I shall dedicate it to you, Lady Catherine Pinkerton, if it pleases.”

The King squealed. “Oh yes, that’s perfect! I shall have you play it again at our -” He cut off sharply. Cath stiffened, clenching the handkerchief in one fist. Jest’s suspicious look returned. The King fidgeted with the clasp of his velvet-lined cape. and his excitement was replaced with mumbled bashfulness. “At, er…the royal wedding.”

Cath wished she could disappear down a rabbit hole. 

Along the way of the King’s courtship, he watches in quiet dismay as his kingdom is taken prisoner by the fear of a creature lurking in the woods, coming out to devour innocents at inopportune times. The Jabberwock is a gruesome beast terrorizing the citizens of Hearts, and the King has no idea how to stop it – other than distracting his subjects with party after party. Catherine is caught up in the midst of a Jabberwock attack more than once – the first time happening at an amusing and informative tea party given by the area’s newest milliner – Hatta. Jest romantically whisks Catherine away from her home in the middle of the night to entertain her at the tea party, but the evening is cut short with a violent encounter by the beast.

After a second fight with the Jabberwock leaves Cath incapacitated, Jest carries her off to another land to have her healed, much to the digress and horror of her parents – and the King. It is viewed as a treasonous act, and Jest is now considered a criminal of the highest depravity to everyone but Lady Catherine Pinkerton, who has fallen completely head over heels in love. After the admittance of her feelings,  Jest finds himself bound to do some exposing of his own and as such, shares the real reason why he is in Hearts – to steal hers. . .her heart that is – and take it back to his native land of Chess, a kingdom only to be found by crossing through The Looking Glass.

“Her chest suddenly squeezed, forcing the air from her lungs. “You’ve been trying to steal my heart.” A muscle twitched in his jaw and he looked away. Mouth suddenly dry, Cath placed a hand to her collarbone, feeling the steady thumping beneath her skin. “Is that…has it all been for that? The tea party, the letters, what you said at the festival…all of it, no more than an attempt to steal my heart so you could take it back to your queen?” 

“The easiest way to steal something,” Jest murmured, “is for it to be given willingly.” 

Despite his nefarious initial intentions, Jest has fallen as deeply in love with Catherine as she has for him. But in doing so, Catherine is now in yet another impossible position. There is no way she is going to be allowed to be with Jest freely, and so she she must devise a plan that will give her freedom. What happens next is certainly something that no one could have foreseen or helped, and Catherine watches her life spin on a wheel that is completely out of her control.

We all know that there is indeed a Queen of Hearts. We all know how desperately controlling and how unwaveringly cruel she can be. Heartless is the path by which this queen is born, a creation of her environment and the lack of concern by which the people in her life treat her. The Queen came by her dreadful attitude and short-sided views honestly, and in the end one cannot truly blame her for her lack of empathy for the young girl who eventually comes wandering on in to Wonderland.

“But why? Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

Her hand fell on the doorknob. “It’s not,” she spat, ripping open the door. “It’s just a stupid riddle. It is nothing but stuff and nonsense!”

Suddenly, inexplicably, the pocket watch fell silent. Hatta’s face slackened. his brow beaded with sweat. “Stuff and nonsense,” he whispered, the words cracking. “Nonsense and stuff and much of muchness and nonsense all over again. We are all mad here, don’t you know? And it runs in my family, it’s a part of my blood and he’s here, Time has finally found me and I –” His voice shredded. His eyes burned. “I haven’t the slightest idea, Your Queenness. I find that I simply cannot recall why a raven is like a writing desk.” 

I read Marissa Meyer’s debut series, The Lunar Chronicles, earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed her unique and Star Wars-esque take on classic fairy tales. The set of 6 books spins an interesting tale centered around a cyborg named Cinder, who comes to the revelation that she is actually long lost princess who is duty bound  to overthrow an evil queen. The books were so much fun and I found so many characters in them that I really came to enjoy, namely Cress (a take on Rapunzel; she is a squeak of a girl kept prisoner on a spaceship where she is forced to use her computer skills to be a spy) and Thorne, the roguish rake who saves her in his own roundabout and hilarious way. The novels weave themselves in and out of several strong characters and their own stories, bringing them all together in a clever manner.

I found Heartless to be entertaining, but not as cleverly written as The Lunar Chronicles. The author would take us down a path that could lead to someplace that was curiously delightful, but then she would instead bring us back around somewhere else  that was a bit dull and overwritten. I was used to so many very strong female characters in her previous work, that I didn’t quite like how Catherine willingly let her life’s dreams slip away once she found love with Jest. She gave up her identity and never truly stood up for herself. Perhaps this is how it had to be written, to get the characters where they were in the end. I don’t know. I just know I would have appreciated seeing a bit more fire from Catherine in the middle of her story, considering how determined she was in the beginning. There were a few steps off the path that I did not understand and found to be a waste of time; this book could have benefited from a bit more editing, in my opinion (not to mention the numerous grammatical and spelling errors I found that drove me nuts).

I give Heartless 3 out of 5 stars, and I can say with wholeheartedness that any young person who has ever found themselves spellbound by the magic that is Wonderland will enjoy this novel – however, older minds may find themselves a bit bored.  It’s written in a true Young Adult sense of the genre, and I recommend it for any person over the age of 13, due to some infrequent but nonetheless evident allusion to carnal desires.

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