Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Wonderland is a fictional universe that is easy to adapt; throw in any weird repurposing of familiar activities/things and the weirdness can be written off as an effect of Wonderland. Despite this, many authors fail to make the world engaging. The presence of a weird and trippy Wonderland won’t always make for a good book. Marissa Meyer, who has proven her ability to write fresh and interesting books, manages to make her adaptation of Wonderland perfect—right down to the hookah-smoking caterpillar that retires from a cobbler’s shop to live in the forest, probably on a mushroom.

Cath is the central character of Heartless, the story of the Queen of Hearts rise to power. The story immediately feels foreboding because, as most readers will recognize, if this book remains true to Carroll’s original creation it cannot have a happy ending. Cath begins as a character with a single dream and deep denial about her future. Her longtime dream is to start a bakery with her best friend and maid, Mary Ann. Soon after the book begins, Cath finds out the King of Hearts intends to take her as his bride. The likelihood of Cath opening a bakery were already slim in this Victorian England structured society; the prospects became more unlikely when the King shows his interest.

What can be enjoyed about Heartless? A slightly-crazy heroine, a strong, equal female friendship, a bit of mystery about Jabberwocky appearances, unexpected origin stories for characters besides the Queen of Hearts and a swoonworthy…court jester?! And if you like trippy Wonderland things like playing croquet with flamingos and hedgehogs, there is plenty of that as well.

Marissa Meyer is a consistently strong literary adapter. Her debut series, The Lunar Chronicles, retold the tales of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White. It is one of few series that began, continued and ended in a fantastic way. Heartless, although in a different universe from those fairy tale adaptations, has the same perfect mix of new and old. Whether or not Heartless has a happy ending is beside the point—it remains an excellent, excellent book with enough references and trippiness for it to be a prequel to Alice in Wonderland.

Heartless is available in print, audio and digital formats. Read-a-likes, beyond Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, include Wonderland-centric books The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, Splintered by A. G. Howard and Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter.

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