“Heartless” : spotlighting on the infamous Queen of Hearts

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Courtesy of Vernon Barford School library (Source: Flickr)

“Heartless” is the prequel to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”

Ashley Han, Staff Writer

Most stories have a protagonist and an antagonist, and it’s clear as day who’s who. But what happens when the antagonist becomes the protagonist? 

“Heartless,”  by Marissa Meyer, is the imagined prequel to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” But this time, the spotlight is on the infamous Queen of Hearts’ backstory. 

Captivating yet devastating the readers of the original “Alice in Wonderland” novel will know what the outcome of the story will be, but still, hang on to read about how a pitiful girl in love became the terror of Wonderland. 

“Heartless” kept me engaged all the way through, and I seriously wished I could stay up all night until sunrise to finish it.

The story is set in the kooky and bizarre world of Wonderland, with many references to the Lewis Carroll book. It follows Catherine Pinkerton, a strong candidate to become the queen. While all Cath wants to do is open a bakery with her best friend, she finds herself closer and closer to becoming the queen to the childish King of Hearts every day. She’s desperate to avoid her fate and find destiny on her own terms, and even more so when she falls for Jest the mysterious and charming new court joker. But in this eccentric land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate is not merciful.

Reading this, you’ll definitely grow to love most of the quirky characters, from the literally mad Mad Hatter who runs a magical hat shop, all the way to the loveable jerk Cheshire Cat. Marissa Meyer does a spectacular job of incorporating all the iconic characters from the original “Alice in Wonderland” into the story, but tweaking them so they fit with the story. She’s meticulous to the point where all the side characters will directly impact and shape the plot, and still have their own backstories and distinctive personalities. 

Catherine is a very unique character, as although she will sometimes make silly or reckless decisions, she truly feels like a teenager. Not too mature, or too naive either. She very honestly feels like a teenager who wants to follow her path and fall in love on her own means.  

The pacing of “Heartless” may feel rather slow at times, but Marissa Meyer takes the time to slowly immerse us into her rendition of the wonderfully dotty setting of Hearts. This masterfully strung tale’s dialogue may very well be my favorite part, although the layered characters and unconventional setting come in a close second and third. The victorian-style speech and overall whimsy of the script just felt so nice to read that I could not put this story down.

“Heartless” contains wittiness, madness and charm. I especially loved how Meyer included many references to literature and poetry, not just the original “Alice in Wonderland”; such as creating characters from the Jabberwocky, a nonsense poem written by Lewis Carroll, and Edgar Allan Poe’s: The Raven. Also, the sheer amount of riddles and jests in the story were enough to make me absolutely adore it. For example, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk, indeed?”

I definitely recommend this book to everyone who enjoys suspense, romance, and everything mad about Wonderland. But as much as it’s a bonus to have known “Alice in Wonderland’s plot, you don’t need any prior knowledge to dive right into this story. Readers of the classic will immediately feel right at home with the familiar vibe, but even to readers who haven’t explored Wonderland through Alice’s eyes, you’ll still love this book. Marissa Meyer creates a new version of Wonderland and stealthily introduces us to her version throughout the novel, so new readers won’t feel confused or lost. But always, she remains faithful to the original fantasy land that Lewis Carroll created. 

The original “Alice in Wonderland,” shows Wonderland through the eyes of Alice, a curious young newcomer. But in “Heartless,” Cath is already so used to the strangeness of Wonderland (having grown up there), so everything feels natural and “normal” to the extent that Wonderland can be normal. 

There is fantastic storytelling in both, that bit is undeniable. There is definitely more hidden meaning and depth behind Lewis Carroll’s version, and it’s less noticeable than in “Heartless.” There’s pretty much one theme in “Heartless,” but in “Alice in Wonderland” there’s just so much more than what’s on the surface.

But of course, “Alice in Wonderland” was meant to be literary nonsense: just nonsense to amuse children, and “Heartless” was meant to be a romance novel for the Young Adult audience. The audience and writing are completely different, so I suppose one can’t really compare the two. 

I give this 5/5 stars. “Alice in Wonderland” will forever be a beloved golden classic, forever read to children as bedtime stories and an iconic fairytale for the ages. But in this prequel, “Heartless” twists it all up and spins it into a riveting, incredible tale. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the setting and characters, and I think it portrayed the unconventional world of Hearts, Wonderland very well.