Heartless is the story of the Queen of Hearts before she was the Queen of Hearts, before she was cold and angry, before she called incessantly for the heads of those who had wronged her. Before she was the Queen of Hearts she was Catherine, a girl who daydreamed about falling in love and of starting a bakery full of the treats she had created by her own hands. Renowned for her cakes and tarts, she’s caught the eyes and the heart of the foolish King of Hearts, who is not what she envisions for a future husband at all. Unfortunately for Cath, her mother and father desire something more for her than a floured apron. As her future comes closer, Cath starts running out of options. If she wants to avoid her fate, she must try to find another path.
I was really excited to read Heartless because The Lunar Chronicles is a really good young adult series. Perhaps it’s because Heartless is a standalone, but I really didn’t find it as engaging as her series. I didn’t feel bored, exactly, but I felt a little like I was reading just to pass the time, rather than reading for pure pleasure. In fact, I ended up setting the book aside for a week because of work and didn’t feel a drive to return to it. Not in the way that The Lunar Chronicles had me going back.
This book is well-written but I’m left feeling underwhelmed at its overall content. I don’t know if I went into it expecting more than it was able to give, but I didn’t find this quite the page-turner that I expected it to be. I loved Meyer’s first series and had high hopes that I would enjoy this one just as much, but ultimately it’s only just okay.
The idea of before in Heartless was really interesting. I liked that it was an origin story of a character who is traditionally viewed as a villain. Catherine’s descent into the familiar red-faced Queen of Hearts was, for the most part, well thought out and written. But somewhere around the middle the book just dragged.
The first half of the book consisted of Catherine focusing on her dream and how she would gain it. When she meets Jest, the new court Joker, it should have gotten more interesting. Heartless claimed to be about a secret courtship between them. What I got was an indecisive girl that didn’t know what she wanted and was torn between dreams and the reality of what her parents wanted. She was very whiny. I also didn’t feel that Jest was very well-developed, so compared to Catherine, he was kind of bland. His backstory was interesting and I would have loved to see more of it, but there just wasn’t time in the novel.
I think that it’s sometimes difficult to keep readers interested in retellings when they kind of already know the story. I felt that inevitability in Heartless. It dragged down the story at times because it was inevitable who she was going to become, that the Jabberwock was going to be problem, that there was going to be something in Cath’s life that made her turn toward anger.
While the characters are familiar, only parts of their characterization are to me, because I’ve yet to read the original story. Obviously, the Hatter has to be mad, but I liked the way that his madness was explored and explained. Along with Jest, I would have really liked to see more of their lives before they met Cath. Something that The Lunar Chronicles excelled at was making a reader care about the secondary characters.
Even though I was a little slow to get through the book, I ended up really liking the ending. So much so, that I was actually disappointed that it was the end. I wanted to see more of this new Cath. The buildup into her character as a villain was worth it. This moment was perfect–just the right amount of darkness. It was just unfortunate that it was at the end, because I felt that the real strength of the book was here. You could really see that Meyer had been building to this point. More of those feelings would have benefited the book in the pages before it.
I think that this is a good retelling, it just wasn’t for me. I really loved the fact that it focused on a villain rather than Alice (who I think was only mentioned in passing). There were familiar characters who were expanded upon and it made the story richer. I only wish the novel had gotten to the good stuff sooner.