How I love fairy tales.
And how I adore Marissa Meyer to have retold every single one of them in such a beautiful way.
Meyer has completely eliminated the only complaint I have had from the fairy tales—the female protagonists, which were bound by the old patriarchy, are strong, independent and determined to have their way.
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I came across her writing back during my under-graduation, when I read ‘Cinder‘ [Part 1 of Lunar Chronicles] on Goodreads. At the time I was still a novice reader, and I was first trying to get through popular fantasy and science-fiction novels. But really, bless the day! I had been so enchanted by the book that she became one of those few writers whose new books I eagerly awaited.
To give you an introduction, the Lunar Chronicles is a series of books, each inspired by a fairy tale, twisted and retold in a sci-fi setting through the eyes of a female protagonist. She has created a completely new world, linked through the five books, sprinkled with elements from famous tales but tied to a breathtaking plot that will leave you breathless. The characters are well sketched and the writing, which slowly improves over the series, follows the ‘show-not-tell’ pattern. The best part is, although most of the fairy tales that inspired the books* have a love story as the central theme, here love plays second fiddle to the mission of a greater good.
Heartless, however, is more like a prelude to Alice in Wonderland than a retelling, set well before the time when Alice falls down the rabbit hole. The book explores the history of the ‘Queen of Hearts’ before she turns into the heartless, despicable queen of Wonderland as we have known. That being said, Marissa Meyer did not simply borrow from the actual Lewis Carroll novels (it has elements from Through the Looking Glass) but has added her own figment of imagination to the already dreamy world along with some very wonderful characters, immediately recognisable from their dialogues.
Now, Alice in Wonderland, for all its peculiarity and awesomeness has been an all-time favourite and demands frequent re-reading and discovery of a new element with every read. With such standards set, Heartless had a lot of expectations to match. And to say that the book did justice to the classic would be justified. It mirrored the absurd nature of Wonderland – the norms, the nonsensical happenings and the assortment of creatures that inhabit the kingdom of ‘Hearts’. But most importantly it gave the ‘Queen of Hearts’ a very, very compelling transformation. The journey of how such a kind, the simple queen would turn into someone so hateful really keeps everyone hooked as the readers see the difference in her character.
The writing draws you into the book like gravity. It has drastically improved since I read Winter, which could have been crisper. Meyer aced the art of showing, so much that I could echo Catherine’s joy, frustration, misery and also the heartlessness. I do not know how she made it possible but really after the events that led to Catherine’s transformation, instead of feeling agony, I could only feel numbness. The ending was every bit as heart-breaking as it could be, and the only solace I can provide myself is that we already saw it coming.
Additionally, Ms Meyer has added history and layers to many of Wonderland’s characters (Mad Hatter, Mock Turtle, Cheshire Cat etc.) as well as made up some legends that make the world of Hearts and related kingdoms even more intriguing. She has played with the riddles, inspired elements beyond Wonderland and based a part of the plot on a nursery rhyme. The best part is she ties up all the loose ends for us to find by the end of the novel things as Alice had found them to be.
What the book fails to deliver is an exciting plot. It only focuses on Catherine’s journey and most of it is through her emotions and reactions. And maybe the plot wasn’t the point because everyone knows what happens in the end, but highlighting some of the secondary characters would have made the story compelling. As the writer claims that this is going to be a standalone novel, we know there is no hope for a course correction.
Also, we see less of other characters to understand for ourselves – like Jest or the Duke of Tuscany etc., and our views are shaped by how Catherine perceives them. Other than this, the book has been delightful in every way.
I would really recommend you pick up this book if you are looking for a dreamy adventure and some madness. For those expecting romance, stay away.
*Cinder from Cinderella, Scarlet from Red Riding Hood, Cress from Rapunzel and Winter from Snow White
The easiest way to steal something, is for it to be given willingly.
Recommended Age Group: Children below 16 and anyone who loves Alice in Wonderland
Payal Niharika is an MBA graduate, an aspiring writer and an avid reader of books. This review first appeared on her blog.
*Feature Image Courtesy – That Artsy Reader Girl