Heartless by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As a fan of Marissa Meyer and her science fiction fantasy Lunar Chronicles series, I was eager to read her standalone debut. Once I learned that Heartless was a fairy tale origin story with a Victorian setting, my anticipation only heightened. A fantasy period novel based on Alice in Wonderland? Count me in.
Heartless draws upon many aspects of Lewis Carroll's whimsical world in Meyer's re-imagination of the Kingdom of Hearts, where Wonderlandesque oddities and the social constructs of Victorian-era England intermingle to create a setting equally strange and captivating.
At the center is Catherine, a teenage girl with big dreams and an even bigger heart. Unlike many young adult protagonists, she is not overbearing or infuriating, and her kindness is admirable. She is a lover of all things sweet, and her aspiration in life is to open up a bakery–but her parents have different plans for her and aim to consolidate her marriage to the foolish, and incredibly annoying, King of Hearts.
Oh, but of course, there is a love interest: Jest, the roguish and devilishly handsome court jester. He has a mysteriously magical past and the obscurity of his identity may be frustrating at times, but he makes up for it with his humor and charm. He and Cath have instant chemistry and their interactions are chock-full of witty repartee. Oh, and do not forget Jest's equally mysterious raven, who is reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem and only speaks in, well, poetry. Jest is also a friend of the famed Hatter, who was really quite a hunk back in the day -- before he went mad and all.
Because Cath starts out as a well-rounded character with a strong sense of right and wrong, there is little room for moral development. Instead, Meyer focuses on her progression from being an aspiring young baker to being the Queen of Hearts. The plot is filled with twists and turns as Catherine embarks on a journey to fulfill her goals and discover who she truly is. While the novel has its fair share of romance, the action is what truly captivated me–Cath's bravery shines through when it matters the most.
At points, the plot progresses slowly, but as the page count dwindled I found myself more and more enthralled in the characters’ fates. Whopping revelations, nail-biting action sequences, and heart-wrenching plot twists combine to form a stress-inducing final 100 pages that culminate in an ending that is, at first, shocking. But after a few days of deep thinking, I realized that the plot had really been going in that direction all along, and one of the main reasons why Heartless made such a strong impression.
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