Heartless was good enough, but I’m disappointed with missed opportunities

February 2, 2017     Michelle     Book Reviews, Magic, Mythology/Fairy Tale

Heartless was good enough, but I’m disappointed with missed opportunitiesHeartless by Marissa Meyer
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Published by Feiwel & Friends on November 8th 2016
Genres: Retelling, Young Adult
Pages: 453

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. 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 a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

I was super excited to pick up Heartless, but I have to admit that I’m kind of disappointed. Yes, it was well-written and had strong character voices and most other things that I’ve loved about Meyer’s work in the past. But … Well, I feel like it had so much more potential. Let’s discuss.

The Decline into madness was actually rather fun.

So, in case you didn’t guess from the title and brief blurb, this is a becoming story: it’s the back-story on how the Queen of Hearts came to be the Queen of Hearts.

I loved witnessing Cath’s decline. At the beginning, it was nearly impossible for me to believe that she was going to become the horrible heartless Queen of Hearts we’re all familiar with from Alice in Wonderland. I mean seriously, her number one passion in the world is baking sweets. And every other thought of hers was about thinking up new recipes or making plans to open her own bakery.

And then she was introduced to some amount of conflict*. And she gradually thought less and less about the things that she loves, and more and more about the things that annoy her. And she started saying things here or there, or started showing her temper, and I was like “Okay, there might be something to this.” And it was kind of cool to watch the spiral descent get started.

*Conflict is loosely defined here. More on that in the dislikes section.

The Random other references made me super happy.

One of my favorite parts about Heartless was the random other literary references. We have a TON of Edgar Alan Poe, as well as some interaction with Peter Peter, Pumpkin Eater.

At first, however, I thought these were subtle nods and I was happy with them being incorporated. But they ended up playing a somewhat major role, and I’m not totally sure how I felt about that.

I loved all of the details that make Wonderland Wonderland.

I liked the random details that made this Wonderland. Things like “Are you sure those lemons aren’t going to make him the size of a house?” and rocking horse flies and some of the other classic Wonderland-isms. I definitely felt like there was more of this in the beginning and it tapered off toward the end, but the parts where they were around were wonderful. (See what I did there? Tee hee)

So there are three sisters who kind of form the gatekeepers to pass through the Looking Glass into other countries. And I loved them. They were creepy and weird and clearly had their own agenda. They were probably one of the single most interesting things in the book. And they liked prophesying terrible things by using words that start with M. And I have to admit, I was pretty impressed at Meyer’s ability to work in so many relevant M words. (Do you think she picked M because of her name?!)

One other thing I did really like with the world-building was the complete and utter ignorance of just about everyone. Normally this would frustrate me, but I actually kind of liked it in this context. Everyone just wanted to believe the best of everything and ignore the bad stuff. This not only made the world feel more fanciful, but, oddly, more real too? There could be a philosophical exploration there, but I don’t feel like thinking about it that much 😛

I liked Jest.

Other than the three sisters, he was probably the only character I felt any real affinity towards. He was great, and I loved his personality. He also had depth of character and consistency with himself, which, you know, helps considerably.


The love triangle thing was just … well, weird.

I don’t get why the king was so infatuated with Cath. I get it, she’s presumably pretty and makes yummy sweets. But the endless infatuation has no basis.

I don’t get why Jest had insta-love for Cath. At all. Or why Cath was so infatuated with him. Actually, the whole thing was a terrible dose of insta-love. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re great together, but it never really got a chance to develop naturally. It was like “BAM — you two are officially infatuated with one another,” and that was that.

I also don’t like what it did to Cath. I wholly blame this stupid insta-love thing for Cath’s change in personality. As in, she stopped caring at all about her best friend, except for the instance where it became a convenient plot device for her to care again.

The plot was actually kind of shallow.

I admit, the main reason I think this is because I had such high expectations. I still hold that Meyer is a phenomenal writer, but after reading The Lunar Chronicles, this pales in comparison. The entire book basically circles around the fact that Cath doesn’t want to be queen and wants to be a pastry chef; but then meets a guy and decides to run away with him; but oh, wait, there are things she still cares about but no she doesn’t, nevermind and oh screw it let’s go become queen anyway so she can get what she wants.

And that’s not necessarily a bad plot, but I was expecting LAYERS. And I didn’t get them. And I was therefor disappointed.

The worst part is there was potential for an awesome plot, but it was treated as a sub-plot. We had a freaking Jabberwok wreaking havoc, and it was largely ignored other than the scenes where it was eating people. I mean, there’s so much to work with there!

The Victorianism could have been toned down.

I didn’t actually like the Court setup. Other than titles being a little different, this was basically copy/paste out of a bad historical romance setup. And it frustrated me so much because it meant that the primary “conflict” was Cath’s inability to do what she wanted because of the system. And … well, as you might have gathered from my mini-rant about the plot, I felt like there was so much potential for something incredibly more interesting. I think that this was a missed opportunity at making Wonderland even more foreign and weird.

I don’t think I was on the right side.

For the first 70% or so, I didn’t want Cath to becoming the Queen of Hearts. I was totally on board for the plan she had with the bakery. And I even convinced myself to be moderately on board with the plan Jest concocted for them to run away. (Kind of not really but sort of).

By the end, there was a part of me that thought I was supposed to be resisting the idea of her becoming the Queen of Hearts. But I just didn’t feel it. The downward spiral seemed inevitable, and, honestly, once we hit the point of no return, I almost felt like there was hardly even a point in finishing the book because it was fairly obvious what was going to happen. I was just thinking “Oh, ok, fair enough” instead of “OH DEAR GOD WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!”

The feels were just not there anymore.

Rating Report
Writing Style
  • Awesome review! 🙂
    I’ve been wanting to read this for ages, but seen as I still haven’t finished The Lunar Chronicles I feel like I should probably get through those first! I totally get your dislikes – I hate when you’re expecting something a bit more complex than what you actually find when you read the book, and insta-love is one of my major pet hates!
    I’m definitely interested to see what I think of this when I finally get round to reading it 🙂

    • Oh DO finish reading the Lunar Chronicles RIGHT NOW! (Seriously; you need to). Unfortunately, those books set such a HIGH STANDARD! And I just don’t think Heartless lived up to it. I’m confident I would have loved it way more if I hadn’t been comparing it to The Lunar Chronicles the ENTIRE time, lol. I hope you do read this soonish; I’d love to compare thoughts!

  • Oh man you said it perfectly! It was good enough but definitely missed opportunities is exactly how I feel too. I loved the food and references! Great review!

    • Michelle

      Thank you! The loads of references were superbly spectacular 😀 And it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who was left wanting … well, more out of the book. :/

  • You make some really good points here. I still really enjoyed the book overall, but I do remember thinking in the middle that the whole thing was about the love triangle that really wasn’t—which was a bit frustrating. But I did find the end exciting even though I knew where it was eventually going.

    • Michelle

      I did enjoy the book overall, for sure! And the end was decently exciting, but I definitely had myself amped up for something more awesome. This was definitely a case of too high of expectations going in. Doesn’t mean I thought the book was bad, just that I had hoped for more, you know?