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(This is a spoiler-free review)
Oh! How I love the fairy tales!
And how much I adore Marissa Meyer to have retold every single one of them in such a beautiful way.
In fact, she has completely eliminated the only complaint I have had from the fairy tales—the female protagonist which were bound by the olden patriarchal society rules, in all her books are strong, independent and determined to have their way!
I came across her writing back during my under-graduation, when I read “Cinder” [Part 1 of Lunar Chronicles] based on Goodreads description and reviews. At that time I was still a novice reader, and I was first trying to get through the popular fantasy/sci-fiction novels (the ones that most of the readers would have on their reading list). But really, bless the day! I had been so enchanted by the book that she became one of those few writers whom I read as soon as her book was out, right from the beginning.
To give you an introduction, the Lunar Chronicles is a series of books, each inspired from a fairy tale but twisted and retold in a science fiction setting, through the eyes of a female protagonist. She has created a completely new world linked part by part through the books, sprinkled with elements from the famous tales but tied to a breath taking plot that would have you go through a roller-coaster ride. The characters are well sketched and the writing (which slowly improves over the series) follows the “show-not-tell” pattern, and both of these would ensure that the reader is well involved in the story. The best part is, although most of the fairy tales that inspired the books* had the love story as the central theme, these books have the love angle as a side theme, with each of our fairy tale heroine tied to a mission for 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 “Queen of Hearts” before she turns into-as the title suggests-the heartless, despicable queen of wonderland as we have known. That being said, Marissa Meyer did not simply borrow from the actual Lewis Carroll novel (or rather novels, because it has some elements from Through the Looking Glass as well), but has added her own figment of imagination to the already dreamy world along with some very deep characters-the ones you could identify merely from their dialogues.
Now, Alice in Wonderland, for all its peculiarity and wonderfulness has been an all-time favourite, which 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 actually be justified. It mirrored the absurd nature of Wonderland-the norms, the nonsensical seeming 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-hearted, simple queen would turn into someone so hateful really keeps everyone hooked—especially because the readers can see for themselves how different she is (or had been).
The writing just draws you in the book, like gravity. It has drastically improved since I read Winter, which honestly could have been crisper. Ms. Meyer aced the art of showing, so much that I could literally 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 the 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 the wonderland’s characters (Mad Hatter, Mock Turtle, Cheshire Cat etc.) as well as made up some legends that makes 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 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 to the happenings in her world. And maybe the plot wasn’t the point as the outcome was already known, however, I sincerely feel that involvement of some just talked about characters could have really made it even more unputdownable. As the writer claims that this is going to be a standalone novel, I can only hang on to the impossibility of her penning down additional series becoming possible and her adding to them more of plot. Also, we see less of other characters to understand for ourselves-like Jest or the Duke of Tuskany etc., and our views shaped by how Catherine perceives them. Other than this, the book has been delightful in every way!
This has been my first read of 2017, and it has been unexpectedly magical. So I would really recommend you to pick up this book if you are looking for another dream like adventure and some madness. However, if you are looking for a romance filled story, sorry to say, but this would not be much to your liking.
*Cinder from Cinderella, Scarlet from Red Riding Hood, Cress from Rapunzel and Winter from Snow White