“How is a raven like a writing desk?”
At this start of 2016 I had 3 books that I was anticipating more than anything else; A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir, Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory, and Heartless by Marissa Meyer. Three Sisters, Three Queens was like have a tooth pulled, and ATAtN was nothing short of terrible, so when I finally held Heartless just before Christmas I begged the books gods to prove the old adage “Third times the charm.”
Spoiler alert; they did.
You have probably seen Heartless called an Alice in Wonderland retelling but it’s not; it’s a prequel to events of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. It’s an origin story for the Queen of Hearts, you know the OFF WITH HER HEAD one?
I haven’t much to say about the story honestly; it’s YA but cleverly crafted, funny, the characters don’t make me want to claw my eyes out and one of them even manages to be genuinely deep. I won’t tell you who but it hits right in the feels at the end there. My biggest complaint about the story as a whole is this one section near the end that completely ruined the pacing for me. It was as if the story had been building up and up to a predictable but nonetheless exciting ending when all the sudden everything stopped for a few chapters so Meyer could, and I wish I were joking, tell you exactly what’s going to happen. It was all the things we had been building towards and I could feel the inevitability of some of the outcomes but it wasn’t boring predictability it was more dread at seeing where this is heading and hoping you’re wrong. I guess Meyer didn’t trust her ability to lay that groundwork though so she went with blatant foreshadowing a scene before the big climax when all of the things come to a head and it ruined the impact for me. Not just a little either, my excitement level plunged and I read the big climax without interest or emotion.
Even with all of that I loved the story, I loved how she wove each of the characters into the narrative in a way that did not feel forced and set the backdrop for events from the Alice books perfectly. Prequels written by other people are a difficult thing but this feels like a natural extension and I couldn’t be happier.
Now. The meat of this review.
I am a huge Alice fan. I have read both books 4 times, I can recite the poem Jabberwocky by heart and I have seen several of the movie adaptation enough to tell you exactly why they are wrong. I am an Alice snob. I take my Wonderland seriously. Going into this book I did not have high expectations for the world building. I haven’t enjoyed a Wonderland adaptation yet and I didn’t expect that to change. The Disney cartoon was nice, it captured the whimsy but fell into the trap of creating a Frankenstein’s monster out of bits of two separate novels; something the Tim Burton adaptation did with stunning disregard for any piece of the original story. I applaud it really.
Meyer is amazing at building complex yet story accurate fairy tale worlds and she built her Wonderland with attention to fine detail. She understands that the world down the rabbit hole and the world through the looking glass are separate. She understands that the fanciful nature of these worlds is normal for the residence so she doesn’t make a big deal out of any of them but makes sure we understand that there are rules to this reality as well. Because she understands these things she is able to create a Wonderland that makes sense while maintaining the accuracy of the source material AND the whimsical feel of the world.
Other adapters look at what Lewis said of Wonderland and try to paint us a picture of it; Meyer looked at Wonderland itself and painted her own picture. Now I understand many other adapters are not trying to recreate the original story they are trying to write their own, loosely based on the original. That’s well and good, they can do as they please but keep in mind I’m a snob. I won’t apologize for being happy to finally get the accuracy I have been dying for.
I highly recommend if you love fairy tales, or Alice and I think even other Alice snobs will adore it.