Saturday, March 3, 2018

Heather Reviews: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Title:  Heartless
Author:  Marissa Meyer
Released:  2016
Publisher:  Feiwel & Friends
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland—the infamous Queen of Hearts—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.
In her first stand-alone teen novel, the New York Times-bestselling author dazzles us with a prequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

"Someone has to do something," [Cath] repeated, though most of her fire had turned to smoke.
"Yes, and that something shall be to ignore such a horrible incident and go on pretending nothing has happened at all."
I feel like that exchange sums up this book in a nutshell.

I'm joining the chorus of people who didn't like this book and thought it would've worked better as a novella. There's not enough material or world building here to justify a 440+ page novel because most of said novel is Cath sitting around and either whining about how she doesn't want to marry the King, thinking about the bakery she wants to open, thinking about baking, or thinking about Jest and wondering if he's thinking about her.

Also, Cath's mother would've made a much better Queen of Heart-to be. She was relentless in getting her daughter into that position and Cath wasn't actually much of a character at all. Plus, Cath's mother was actually quite mean and ruthless; she was much more believable as the Queen of Hearts. I'm just saying, I would read the fanfic!

Anyway, this book is pretty much the Lunar Chronicles but in a Victorian England setting, but instead of any technology there are occasional references to Wonderland characters. And by occasional reference, I mean very sparse, and that is about as Wonderland as a book promising the rise of the Queen of Hearts gets. For some reason, joining the Wonderland characters are nursery rhyme characters: Jack Sprat and Peter Peter appear for ... reasons? And Edgar Allan Poe's raven from the titular poem is Jest's partner in crime. Again for whatever reason. This is Wonderland and any characters can exist that you want; why drag in others?

I'm not a Wonderland fanatic, but I've seen the first Tim Burton movie (it was on ABC Family one night), the Disney movie (I couldn't sleep and borrowed my sister's DVD one night), I've played the American McGee's Alice games (that's just coincidence and I'm more fond of the soundtracks) and read the Lewis Carroll books (I'm interested in classic literature). I don't feel like this book captures the spirit of Carroll's Wonderland, and instead rams it into a 19th century setting for forced drama and -I shudder- insta-love. Nothing is as random and weird and, pardon the pun, wonderful as it was, it's just Catherine sitting around thinking about how she has to conform to the laws of this society.

Add into the fact that I don't entirely understand Cath's quibbles about marrying the King of Hearts. She mentions early "[...] queens did not open bakeries with their best friends. Queens did not gossip with half invisible cats. Queens did not have dreams of yellow-eyed boys and wake up with lemon trees over their beds." Queens don't stop being people, first of all. Secondly, the book makes a show of mentioning that the King loves Cath's baking; I can't see why he wouldn't allow her to open a bakery (Again, I quote: "What a queen you will make, Lady Pinkerton, cake baker and happiness maker!"). And, yeah, maybe Cath didn't like the King, and, yeah again, he's a few years older than her, but she also mentions he was a decent man, if just a little odd, so the audience could assume she would be treated well. When she meets him for a croquet game and mentions that she would like to be courted slowly, he respects her wishes; why does she think she would have to give up her existence if she became Queen of Hearts?

But Cath thinks "Her husband? Her one and only? Her life's partner through trials and joys?" and I just roll my eyes; most women in that time did not marry for love. All I could think was, "please stop trying to emulate Romeo & Juliet, I think we can all agree that wasn't a good look." Cheshire at one point tells her what the entire audience thinks, "I'm only saying you may be the King's wife, but who is to say you couldn't also have more clandestine relations with the Joker?" to which Cath's "jaw falls open" and she huffs around the kitchen and declares she wants to be an honest wife. Oh, it's cute and noble and all that, but we all know that real life royal families get down like that, so Cheshire's suggestion was completely legit. In my eyes, Cath was just further complicating things and refusing to move the book along. I'm not complaining about her not being able to love the King, that's fine and nobody's asking her to, but, as Mary Ann points out, so many women in the Kingdom would love to be in her position and she acts like she's been asked to die on a cross.

Unfortunately, for all the mental fuss that Cath makes about marrying the King, she never puts up a physical or verbal fight. She'll fluster and redden when he asks to marry or court her and think about how she will say yes or how she can't say no because of expectations and her family, instead of thinking about all her thoughts from the past, oh, 100 or so pages about her bakery and her dreams and how ~she wants to marry for love~ and how she could never actually be in love with the King.

It's tiring, dear reader.

Cath's inability to see the long term good in marrying the King of Hearts wasn't the only thing about her that annoyed me. The first chapter of the ball we're introduced to her childhood friend, Margaret Mearle, who "had the great hardship of being unbearably unattractive." The book then spends a paragraph describing exactly how unbearably unattractive Margaret is and ends said paragraph with, "If it weren't for the gowns she wore, Margaret would have been frequently mistaken for a boy. An unattractive one." Way to go, book.

I guess it tries to have Cath be redeemed by descending into Mean Girls territory by having the Knave of Hearts come up to her to tell her how much he never liked her and how her dress is so red while Cath just ~smiles and bears it~ and Goody Pinkerton remains pious, but it's just so cheap and trope-y, and besides, I just saw her dancing with the devil mentally insulting her friend.

The other side of the love triangle is Jest and the further into this book I read the more I just thought, "why was this written?" All apologies; I liked the Lunar Chronicles, but this is just such a black hole of a book with characters that have no chemistry... That was my only thought. Jest's intro scene shows him doing apparent, actual magic, but this is spoiled, at least in my opinion, by having the book cut back to Cath for her reaction on everything. Especially because it was for mundane things like Cath marveling at Jest summoning a snow storm of paper and noticing the bit that fell into her hair had a heart on it (~foreshadowing~). All I could think was, who cares; the rest of the ballroom is probably having the same reaction. It was so un-memorable all I actually remember from the scene was the lights in the candelabras going out, him appearing in a hoop, and the reader gets Cath's reactions on everything he was doing like she was the announcer at a sports game. That was my memory of another character's introduction.

Their ~courtship is just as boring as the rest of the book was to me (though, since the book is romance, I guess their courtship IS the rest of the book?): They meet outside the ball because Cath ran away after hearing the King would propose to her and she faints in front of Jest (side note: why?), then they meet again at the castle for a game of croquet and they both manage to be the best players while making a show of how inept the King is at everything, and then they go to the Mad Hatter's tea party. And it's just so vanilla and boring. I remember reading their parting after Cath faints and thinking, "shouldn't I feel... giddy? Like they have some chemistry? Like their interactions were cute?" Instead I just felt nothing; I was so aware that they were two characters on a paper for the sole purpose of taking one character from point A to B that it was painful.

At a certain point, after the Rock Turtle Cove thing, everything starts going wrong for Cath, which, if you're a reader of Victorian literature and, you know, you read the blurb, you know Cath isn't going to get what she wants.

Skip this: I liked the Lunar Chronicles, really I did, but this feels like a sophomore effort and doesn't offer anything new to the Wonderland mythos. If you haven't, pick up Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, watch the Disney classic, maybe play (or watch) the American McGee's take on them, but this is just boring. Nothing new to see here.

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