Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, 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 unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.
Then Cath 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.*
Don’t get attached. Don’t get attached. Don’t. Get. Attached.
Needless to say, I got attached despite repeating this to myself both before I started this book and the entire time I was reading it. Obviously, based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, things were not going to end well for Cath and Jest. That didn’t stop me from falling for the two of them and cursing Marissa Meyer while at the same time thanking her for creating such a beautiful story. It’s a wonderful tribute to Lewis Carroll’s original; it is every bit as whimsical, and employs the same wordplay and fanciful dreaming. Carroll probably would have loved it. There is also a nod to Poe through the character of Raven, which will be much appreciated by all lovers of the macabre author.
Cath’s tale is rather reminiscent of Jo Montfort’s in These Shallow Graves. Both are society ladies who fall for someone their family would never approve of and who dream of having careers that would also be frowned upon. For Jo, it was being a reporter; for Cath, it was being a baker. It is incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking to see these characters’ ambitions and desires cast aside by their parents in favor of status and wealth, and one of the most poignant and heart-wrenching lines of Heartless comes from a conversation Cath has with her parents about this at the end.
What is perhaps even more frustrating is that Cath is eventually given a choice, but she ruins it. When faced with the dilemma of saving one person or condemning four lives, she attempts to defy fate, believing she can save that life while also saving the other four. I was internally screaming at her throughout these few chapters, and right on to the end of the story. It’s hard to feel sympathy for her when she falls into grief because of her regret over the choice she made–it was exactly that, a choice. She knew what she was doing, but doesn’t seem to want to accept responsibility for it.
Because I was expecting it, I didn’t cry over the overtly sad scene in the novel. It was the smaller details that got me, such as the reason the gardeners in Alice’s Adventures are rushing to paint the white roses red. We’re talking serious ugly crying here over that one. Marissa is a fantastic writer, capturing every detail of a place or Cath’s latest dessert, and she clearly put a lot of effort into capturing the spirit of the original tale. So many beloved Carroll characters find their way into this book, as do more minor players like the White Rabbit’s servant, Mary Ann.
If you’re a fan of Lewis Carroll or just need a beautifully heartbreaking romance this winter, pick up this charming new tale from Marissa Meyer! Although, be warned: Any tea party you now have will feel inadequate unless it has an old lady playing drums using knitting needles and assorted dishes.
*Cover image and synopsis come from Amazon.com.