HOLY SHEET. I finally read Heartless by Marissa Meyer, and I am floored right now–because I absolutely loved it. Like, freaking loved it.
Now I’m probably being biased here since I went into this book completely blind, knowing absolutely nothing besides that it was an Alice in Wonderland retelling, but it really paid off: having no inkling as to who these characters were truly heightened the intrigue for me, and thus increased my appreciation of this book on the whole.
And that’s how I generally try to approach my books–blindly.
After all, non-spoilers reviews aren’t really non-spoiler reviews if you think about it. Sure, they don’t spoil the big plot points for you, but they do end up dropping hints of how you’ll feel about that book, and that’s usually a dealbreaker for me–because if a reviewer tells me that I’ll be happy, sad, or moved by a book, I’ll likely anticipate whatever happy, tragic, or dramatic curveball the book will try to throw at me, and my reading experience will have been spoiled.
That’s why I steer clear of reviews prior to reading a book, although I will read the hell out of them afterwards! The reviews I enjoy the most are those of books that I’ve read myself, and ones I can partake discussion in, especially if I have a book hangover; I just need to gush or discuss certain things to get the book out of my system, and bothering people on their book review posts are my evil pasttime:)
But despite this blurb, I do want to convince you to read this book, so here is a non-spoiler review followed by a spoiler discussion. So do be careful scrolling down:) Cheers!
Good, initial symptoms that this wasn’t going to be a terrible book:
Great thing #1: Coherently artsy-fartsy writing
He was kissing her again when Raven coughed, loudly. “They are coming. We mustn’t tarry any longer.”
Cath and Jest looked up into the tree boughs.
“That didn’t rhyme,” said Cath.
“Who has the time?” snapped Raven.
Mind you, this was my first Marissa Meyer book, but I thought her writing was quite nice. Her prose has this smooth, easy flow to it, yet it’s dressed up just enough to give it a stylistic edge for those literary nerds.
Fantastic thing #2: Enjoyable world-building
I also really liked the atmospheric sense of this world. It feels batshit crazy at times (which is exactly what the original Alice in Wonderland was like), but the characters themselves are so paradoxically grounded that it made this world feel utterly convincing and realistic to me.
Relieving thing #3: Doesn’t beat you over the head with how pretty the protagonist is
“It is much wiser to let your inner beauty shine through a drab gown than to attempt to conceal it with physical accoutrements.”
Well, at least not too much. Catherine certainly has assets, but it’s not all dress-up games, flirtation tug-of-wars, or anything asinine like that. The preening is kept to a relieving minimum, so thank goodness for that.
Enjoyable thing #4: Food, food, food, and poof! Friendship!
“One wouldn’t know it to look at Mary Ann, but she had an appetite to rival Cath’s own. They’d bonded over their love of food years ago, not long after Mary Ann had been hired on as a household maid.”
You often don’t get a concrete reason as to why best friends clicked in the first place, but here? I don’t know, the idea of two girls bonding over food and cooking is such a simple yet specifically cute reason, it just made me smile:)
Disturbing thing #5: Creepy…
“Always check your hats before donning them. You never know what might be lurking inside.”
This book really knows when to take it there. It doesn’t cross over to the point that it becomes horror, but this story is so ominously creepy at times, it raised a few goosebumps on my skin.
Like Mock Turtle soup. The Jabberwock. The Sisters in the well. *shudders* This book may seem whimsical and fluffy at first, but the subtle elements of impending horror truly made it my cup of tea.
Refreshing thing #6: A delightful love interest
“My lady, I am a professional fool. I can say with certainty that you do not have the makings of one.”
She smirked. “Then that’s a relief.”
“Is it? Have you something against fools?”
“Not at all. Only, if I were as natural at foolishness as I am at poetry, I might try to take your position from you, and you seem so very well suited to it.”
When you’re first introduced to Cath’s love interest, you can’t help but smile. It was one of those rare, monumental occurrences in my life where I could actually understand why the girl falls in love at first sight. Jest is sweet and almost childlike, and that was a wholly refreshing break from the stereotypical “manly and confident” kind of guys you see nowadays.
Now Jest does slip out of character at times, as in he oscillates between sweet and naive to serious and manly, which makes it slightly difficult to get a true grasp on his character. However, that doesn’t detract too much from the book as it’s not meant revolve around Jest, but rather around Cath. Sure, this book could’ve been improved by delving more into his character…but again, it’s all about Cath. You’ll see what I mean.
Emotional thing #7: The feels
SERIOUSLY. I. JUST. CAN’T.
Now to be perfectly transparent, this is not a flawless book. There are a few pacing issues towards the ending and the romance does fizzle out just a bit.
However, the emotional payout at the end is extremely effective, and the morals pretty effing ballsy, so I can’t complain; every book has its imperfections, yet the flaws here aren’t significant enough for me to not wholeheartedly recommend it to someone. So go on, read it! My desperate plea is for you to jump into this book completely blind, or else you won’t appreciate this book as much as I did.
So thanks for reading this review! This will be the SPOILER DISCUSSION from here on out, so if you haven’t read this book yet, shoo! (Seriously, avert your eyes!)
Confusion #1: Who was Jest, really?
Again, I love Jest. His childlike demeanor really adds an extra layer of complexity to this book–it’s really quite intriguing just how someone can be so child-like AND manly at the same time, and Jest embodied that air of mystery.
However, once his whimsy started to transition more into seriousness, the romance got confusing for me–what kind of person did Cath fall in love with, and was Jest ever that child-like guy we met at first? I wasn’t so sure anymore. Not to mention, I thought the plot of Jest renouncing his mission just because he fell in love with Cath was a bit cheesy and rushed. It’s not a major complaint, but I thought their decision to elope to the Land of Chess was a bit dramatic. Just a bit.
Note #2: Wake up, Cath darling!!!
“It was from the Lion’s carousal hat, the one he’d been waring the night of the Hatter’s tea party. The one he’s been wearing when the Jabberwock had carried him into the night.”
On page 214, Cath recognizes the Lion’s carousal hat in Peter’s garden, SO WHY DIDN’T SHE TELL SOMEONE?! She might’ve solved the mystery and avoided this whole debacle in the first place!!!
Whining #3: The Land of Chess, a.k.a. the red herring
I don’t know if I should be mad or excited about this one, because on the one hand, I just loved how sneakily this alternate land was set up to in order to make you believe that Cath and Jest would make it there. It was like giving a lollipop to a masochist, only to snatch it away at the last second, and the masochist inside me likes it.
But on the other hand, I was pretty disappointed that these characters never made it to the Land of Chess. I was REALLY hyped to see more because the world-building was so fantastic–I wanted to more expansion, dammit!
Yeah I know, I’m whining…
Shock factor #4: The demise of…well, you know who.
In between the space of a gasp and a scream, there was the sound of blood splattering across the ground. Like ink from a broken quill.
Now when I say that the book is ballsy, this is one of those moments. I didn’t even realize that Jest had been murdered until moments later, and only then was I like, “OH NO SHE DIDN’T.”
Because seriously, how often is it that a character’s love interest gets snuffed out in the blink of an eye like that, without warning, and so nihilistically? This was the perfect execution of Marissa Meyer pulling the rug out from under you, and I freaking loved it. LOVED IT.
Criticism #5: Rushed pacing and character development at the end
“Murderer, martyr, monarch, mad.”
Come on, where did “bros before hoes” go? Cath turning on Mary Ann over Jest’s death was the most jarring thing ever, and that made me dislike her–a lot. Sure, I felt for her, but that’s no excuse to go rampaging over innocent people who’s relying on you to be a good queen!
Now if the degeneration of Cath’s mentality had creeped up on me subtly, I would’ve bought it. However, Cath seems to go nuts as soon as Jest dies, and I just didn’t think that meshed well with the grounded and rational character we’d seen all the throughout the book. (Note though: I love that transition from heroine to villain; it’s just that it could’ve been milked and dragged out a lot more for a smoother transition.)
Satisfying thing #6: BURN
“Is this what’s going to make you happy?’
‘How different everything could have been, if you had thought to ask me that before.”
I strangely felt satisfied by Cath’s final words to her parents. They kinda deserved it in my opinion…
Rant thing #7: The feels, the feels, the FEELS
“Good-bye, Hatta.” She swung toward the door, but his desperate laughter followed her. A shrill giggle. A sobbing gasp.
“But why? Why is a raven like a writing desk?
Her hand fell on the doorknob. “It’s not,” she spat, ripping open the door. “It’s just a stupid riddle. It is nothing but stuff and nonsense!”
Suddenly, inexplicably, the pocket watch fell silent.
I loved Hatta from the get-go. His cynical nature really jived with me, and it was such a nice, fuzzy feeling when he finally warmed up to Cath. But then for him to finally go mad at the end?! My heart just SHATTERED. You realize that Hatta had been in love with Jest all this time, and for him to give in to his madness as a result of that…you have to sympathize (or in my case, cry) for Hatta despite all the missteps he’s taken in leading to this tragedy.
Not to mention, poor Raven! His allegiance to Cath lies in their mutual love for Jest, and that was sad as hell. It felt like Raven was being pulled into the destiny of executioner without much say, and that was the part that made me a bit angry at Cath. What did Raven ever do wrong to get sucked along with her rage?!
Although to be fair, Cath’s final interaction with Hatta did make my heart ache for her as well. It still felt like she was clinging to shreds of her sanity at that point, and had been hoping that Hatta would snap her out of her apathy…but then for their friendship to break apart like that? Seriously, my God. My heart is dying. (Albeit in a really good way.) HELP!
So have you read this book? Love it or hate it? Let me know in the comments below.
I’ve been doubting the hype around Marissa Meyer for quite some time, believing it to have been overinflated. But after reading this book and the Lunar Chronicles thereafter, I have to say: she’s pretty great, isn’t she? Her writing is no Shakespeare, but her prose is quite lovely and the world-building fantastic, and for entertainment value if nothing else, I would re-read her books any day.
(Although I did still prefer Heartless to the Lunar Chronicles. Cinder or possibly Cress rivals Heartless imo, but I just think Heartless is way more ballsy, and it features more concise story-telling.)