Author: Marissa Meyer
Published: November 8th 2016
Rating: 2.5-3/5 stars (I still can’t decide!)
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland—the infamous Queen of Hearts—she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love. Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.
Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.
In her first stand-alone teen novel, the New York Times-bestselling author dazzles us with a prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
This was a weird book for me, because I’m still not completely sure what I actually think of it. The synopsis makes it sound like it could go really well or really badly especially the “she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love” bit, which I was a bit wary of. And it kinda did go both ways, at least a lot more than I’m used to, because there were so many things that drove me crazy about it but I still enjoyed it at the same time (though not enough to distract at all from the things I disliked).
When the story starts Catherine is nothing like the Red Queen we’re used to, apart from her love of tarts, but I still didn’t think she was a good person. I glanced at a few reviews when I was thinking about reading it and it seems that the general conscious is that she’s a very sweet and innocent girl with no hint of what she is to become, so I’m in the minority there. She has a wonderful relationship with one of her servants, Mary Ann, and wants to start up a bakery with her, but she doesn’t really have any other good relationships with anyone else. We’re introduced to another one of her friends, who isn’t really a friend, pretty early on into the novel and one of the first things she does is call her “unbearably attractive” and talk about how she doesn’t like her personality. There a few other instances of this, but for some reason they didn’t immediately turn me off to her. I was interested in her flaws because I thought they might contribute to her acting like the Red Queen we’re all familiar with, but they became too much for me fairly quickly. I struggled to find any truly positive traits in her apart from her skill in baking and occasional spouts of bravery. If anything she became more annoying further into the book and her relationship with Jest and I could never really like her all that much. Though at the same time, despite her selfishness and other negative traits I couldn’t bring myself to hate her because I was trying to figure out how she would become the cruel Red Queen the entire time and it wasn’t that hard for me to see some of her behavior becoming more intense and cruel.
Also I mentioned her baking as a positive trait, but it was actually something that liked me less. She talked about how she was the best baker constant and had overwhelming confidence in her skills, never losing faith in them for a second. I got tired of hearing this pretty fast, but then, to add insult to injury, she began criticizing everyone else’s cooking that she tried. Even if this was somewhat deserved in certain cases I wished she hadn’t been so obvious about it and had calmed down a bit about her love of her own baking. It was something that was necessary to the story, but I think it could have been approached in a better way and helped it to seem more like the positive trait it was supposed to be.
For all of her flaws I had trouble seeing why she was so well liked by the male population. There are only two people who are really vying for her affections but a third who had much less page time also seemed implied from how he insisted he hated her so often and then got kinda flustered when she was brought up (I’m really not sure here?). I don’t understand why they would like her so much? The King seems to be interested in her almost solely because he loves her baking, but I don’t get the impression that they’ve spent enough time together for him to really know her that well let alone to want her as his queen. I liked her relationship with Jest a lot more, they were actually fairly cute together, but it also seemed a little bit forced especially near the beginning. It was a major and weird case of insta-love where they both met once and gained an intense attraction for each other immediately without much reason. I think Cath was interested him partially because of his powers and also because of a weird never really explained dream she had. In Jest’s case I have no idea where the attraction came from. But that’s not to say that I disliked their relationship altogether.
Jest was incredibly sweet to her and had some interesting magical powers that kept me interested in his character. I didn’t really like the way that Catherine treated him or the king though. She would have sweet moments with Jest while at the same time being aware of how the King of Hearts felt about her. As is the case with many books with multiple characters going after the main character it began to feel like she was leading them both on, especially since she was not shy about expressing her lack of interest in the King but neglected to give any indication of this to him. I wasn’t actually particularly fond of the King himself, but I felt bad for him not knowing how she actually felt.
What I really really liked about this book was how things started to get tied together in the later chapters, a large part of why I’m having trouble giving this a definite rating. The majority of the rest of the book didn’t really feel like it had all that much going on in comparison, and was rather slow for me (like the first 70-75% probably). This is also where Cath displayed some more character development, which didn’t change at all for most of the rest of the book, which was really nice to see because it was part of the reason why I wanted to read it in the first place. Though I must admit, it didn’t seem that realistic of a change/development and I felt like there could have been more of a building up of reasons for it. The ending did come across as a bit rushed and I probably would have liked it a bit more if some of the elements and plot points surrounding the last parts of the book were explored in a bit more detail earlier on (even if I did guess one of the more major twists fairly on). I also think that there were some things in that first section that weren’t really necessary and could have been cut out entirely. Overall I did end up enjoying it and I’m interested to see if the author decides to write any short stories or such because there are some characters and other element of the story that I would love to learn more about!
Also, if you’re looking for more Alice and Wonderland retellings, I would recommend Splintered by A.G Howard and I’d love to hear about any others you’ve enjoyed too.