Following her Lunar Chronicles series, Marissa Meyer released Heartless, an origin tale for The Queen of Hearts from the Alice in Wonderland world. It currently holds a 4.06 on Goodreads. This is a review of the audiobook, performed by Rebecca Soler.
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland—the infamous Queen of Hearts—she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.
Heartless follows the daughter of a marquess, Cath, who dreams of the simple life as a bakery owner. Her passion for baking completely defines her, so when she learns the King intends to propose, she is horrified to think she may be forced to be a Queen. Things get even more complicated when she meets Jest, the mysterious court joker who immediately catches her eye. Between a love triangle, and a yearning for a life of entrepreneurship she can never have, Cath finds herself growing more and more… disenchanted.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I’m a sucker for fairytale retellings. It’s why I happily gobbled up The Lunar Chronicles, even though it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. So when I realized the same author had created a standalone novel inside the Wonderland world (not strictly a fairytale, but in the same arena), I knew it would be a perfect book for December. I love reading fairytales in the winter, especially around the holidays. I grabbed the audiobook and hit play. I got mostly what I was expecting. A fluffy, magical story that builds wholly on the nostalgia audiences have for characters and worlds we grew up with. Check and mate.
One thing that surprised me was how different it was from The Lunar Chronicles, which as a series, features Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White. This was mainly because that earlier series placed the familiar characters in a sci-fi world, driven by tech. In Heartless, we stay inside of the “fairytale” world – no science, no advanced tech, just magic. That said, the book does a good job at maintaining the surreal elements of Wonderland while simultaneously re-purposing the story for a completely different tale. I loved Cheshire the Cat and thought he was especially well-performed for the audiobook.
What I liked most about the book, though, is having Cath be defined by her passion – baking. Her drive and her aspiration to own a bakery, no matter the odds, is a really nice way to give her an identity outside of love-struck rich girl. This was so well-woven into the narrative that much of the language in the book relies heavily on baking terminology and baked-good metaphors. I thought this was a really… sweet… touch 😉 (see what I did there?).
What I disliked about the book was that once the love story was introduced, it took centre stage. Cath never stopped wanting her bakery, but a lot of her daydreaming and motivation for doing things got wrapped up in her feelings for Jest. I realize this is kind of realistic, falling in love can be all-consuming, but it’s why I tend to stay away from love stories. I want my characters to have non-romantic goals, and to stick to them. At least the food puns stuck around.
All in all, this book was really accessible and pretty fun. I really enjoyed Soler’s reading of it and I can see it becoming a December go-to for background noise while I’m making shortbread and sweet potato pie. Apart from that, I didn’t find the story to be particularly clever or to have done anything all that unexpected. It certainly didn’t give me much to think about, but I did enjoy the ride.
I give it a 3.5/5.