Author: Marissa Meyer
Summary: An imagining of the origin story of The Queen of Hearts
“One to be a murderer. One to be a Martyr. One to be a Monarch. One to go Mad”
-Marissa Meyer, Heartless
I have loved Alice in Wonderland for as long as I can remember, so whenever I see something based on it, I’m immediately interested. Let me take this moment to be petty and make sure everyone understands the difference between the Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen. The Queen of Hearts ruled in Alice in Wonderland and had a fondness for decapitation. The Red Queen, literally a chess piece, was one of two queens in Alice Through the Looking Glass and, though rather strict, she was relatively harmless. Okay, glad that’s done with. So, I knew Heartless was going to be an imagining of the origin story for the Queen of Hearts, which is great because I adore character background and examining the different sides of villains, but I didn’t know how sad it was going to be! I should have seen it coming, she was destined to become this infamous villain, of course it wouldn’t be a happy story…but still! Books, they’ll really toy with your emotions. In the world of Heartless, the place we know as Wonderland is actually called Hearts. Makes sense, right? Queen of Hearts, like Queen of England. There is a neighboring country called Chess, a parallel of the chessboard land in Through the Looking Glass, which figures into the story as well. The protagonist of the book is a young woman named Catherine Pinkerton. Cath is a noble and her parents are pushing her to live a life beyond her desires. All she wants is to open a bakery with her best friend. Yep, the future Queen of Hearts is into baking. She’s really good at it too! She makes macrons and cakes and famously, lemon tarts. If Cath’s parents had a proper appreciation for pastries, Alice in Wonderland might have been a very different story. “Hello Alice my name’s Cath and I’m definitely not a megalomaniacal queen, may I offer you a nice slice of elderflower pie?” I don’t know if elderflower pie is a thing, but it sounded fancy. Regardless, Cath is really precious and I hate what happens to her, it’s tragic, but it’s good storytelling.
Marissa Meyer has written other books adapting fairytales. Her series The Lunar Chronicles features the only versions of Cinderella and Snow White that I actually like. (They’re great, highly recommend.) So, naturally, I was excited to see her take on the characters from one of my favorite fictional worlds. Being as obsessed with Alice in Wonderland as I am, I enjoyed finding all the little references, which you might miss if you were unfamiliar with the source material. Here’s an obvious one. There’s a pretty key plot point in the original story involving a trial, where the Knave of Hearts is accused of stealing tarts that the Queen of Hearts has baked. (I mean first of all, bad move dude, have you seen what that lady does to people who break rules?!) In Heartless, Cath brings her lemon tarts to a party, where the Knave does snag some, much to her chagrin. Meyer adapts the Wonderland characters so creatively, this is set before the events of the original story, so everyone is younger. The White Rabbit’s maid, Mary Anne, whom he mistakes Alice for, appears in Heartless as Cath’s best friend. The girl who is to become the awful, moral spouting, Duchess is an annoying acquaintance. The Mad Hatter is just Hatta, maker of not-so-normal hats. Meyer populates her world with some new characters as well, most notably one particular new character. Jest, a court jester, as his name implies, and Cath’s love interest. I won’t say much more about him, because…spoilers, but Jest is a magical, mysterious character and he’s easy to fall in love with.
The book starts as what seems to be the story of a rebellious teenager with a dream, and ends in true tragedy. It was much more of an emotional rollercoaster than I was expecting, and the author really gives complexity to characters that were originally there to serve a smaller purpose. It is beautiful, from the imagery in the writing, to the design of the cover. And no, I’m still not over the ending.
Pro Tip: The best thing to do after reading a sad book? Make your friend read it! Then they can go through the same pain you did and you’ll be sad together! Yay!