Wow, guys. Wow. What a book! I knew I liked Marissa Meyer, but this was like a sucker punch to the gut, especially following up on The Lunar Chronicles. But let me back up...
Following Meyer's last novel, Winter, I was a bit disappointed with how the series had ended. And when I saw that she'd put out Heartless, about the Queen of Hearts from Lewis Caroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I eyed it a bit skeptically. I haven't been very impressed with any of the recent takes on Alice, and while I know that Meyer can weave a tantalizing tale, I wasn't entirely convinced this was the best route for her to take. Still, I picked it up to read while on winter vacation.
I started it, and I was still skeptical. And I kept reading, and I was still skeptical. In Heartless, Meyer looks into the backstory of the Queen of Hearts, and how she came to hate white roses, have a deep desire to chop of people's heads, etc. But for much of the book, this seems like a simpering teen romance, albeit set in a strange place. The protagonist is Catherine, the daughter of the Marquess of Turtle Cove, who loves to bake and dreams of opening her own bakery with her maid, Mary Ann. For some reason these two are also the only people to have "normal" names in all of Wonderland. But Catherine's parents have other plans for her, primarily having her marry the King of Hearts, something Catherine decidedly does not want. But when she attends a ball that's supposed to end in a proposal, she ends up running off and encountering the king's new fool, named Jest. And of course they're immediately attracted to each other. But Cath is supposed to marry the king and Jest is apparently on a secret mission from another country in the land of Chess, so there are some obstacles to their romance.
Things have a bigger hiccup at the midway point, and then calm down until the end when everything goes to hell in a handbasket. Having read Meyer's Lunar Chronicles books, I expected this to happen, but to find that there would be another book and it would all be neatly wrapped up, happy ending with a bow on it, voila! BUT. NO. This is not a series book. According to her website, this is a STAND ALONE NOVEL. Which means that ending is the end. Period. Full stop. And wow, what a punch to the gut it is. It's a perfect ending for this, I think--it is, ultimately, a villain origin story, after all. But it's not a happy one, and I think that could have a lot of people throwing the book across the room in frustration.
But the ending is really what this book has to offer. Everything comes together wonderfully, but there are no big surprises, and while the writing is solid, it's not tantalizing like some of Meyer's other books are. The romance didn't have me longing to read more, and I actually didn't really care about Jest that much. I also found Cath's decisions in the end, that lead to the terminal events, rather questionable. She seemed to have a strange sense of ethics, even when faced with one of those dilemmas about "Do you let the train kill one person on the tracks, or five?" I didn't really care for her as a character, either. The dazzling ending of this one had me pushing all of that aside, forgetting it easily...but looking back, I'm not sure I can quite let it slide. It was a gut-wrenching conclusion, one that fit perfectly, but honestly I don't think this book was as strong as Meyer's others, though I wouldn't mind seeing her write more in this version of Wonderland, even if they're not direct sequels.
3 stars out of 5.