This is a story of Wonderland before it became the broken thing that Alice encounters in the book. Residents are more or less happy and good natured. They don’t stay that way, however. Wonderland is a world of cards, and there are many fun and innocent games you can play with cards. But there’s another land through the Looking Glass, the land of Chess. And Chess is a battlefield. Some things from Chess have come to Wonderland, and they will never be the same.
Heartless is the tale of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, and how she became that person. She starts out as a perfectly lovely young Lady, the daughter of the Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove. Catherine, or Cath (not really a fan of that nickname, but whatever), is a baker. She loves to make all sorts of confections, and has a dream with her maid Mary Ann to open a bakery. Dreams don’t always come true, even in Wonderland, and they are aware of that. Cath’s mother has high aspirations for her daughter, and they don’t include her becoming a small business owner.
Those high aspirations come into play during the first ball the characters go to. Cath is distracted by her baking, so dresses as she’s told by her mother, despite her protests. She should have protested more, as she is the only one wearing red at a black and white ball. It becomes obvious that her mother is set on Cath becoming the Queen of Hearts, a title which Cath does not want, both for the position and the husband that goes with it. She is saved some embarrassment by the arrival and performance of the new court Joker, also known as Jest.
Jest is an interesting character. He performs wondrous magic and seems to do the impossible. He is clever and witty and appears to know more than anyone else. Like some jesters of old, he also acts as an advisor to the king. And this king certainly needs an advisor. He is weak and does not know how to deal with conflict. He often turns to others to make decisions and wants to make everyone happy. A nice enough concept during times of peace, but that time is quickly fading.
Jest, despite performing magic, seems more real than some of the other characters. And that realness is very appealing to a young Cath. He is also very attractive, something the king is not. Actually, he is pretty much everything the king is not. Cath is torn between what she wants and what is expected of her. She wants to be a baker. She wants Jest. She is expected to become queen.
If Jest had never appeared, Cath probably would have grumbled about it, but she would have married the king anyway and become queen. She would have made a wonderful queen, and the kingdom would have probably prospered. But Jest did appear. And Cath was made aware that she had choices in life, and that things and people existed outside her bubble of nobility. Jest brought excitement and darkness into her life. And so things shifted.
Not everything that happens is Jest’s fault. Some of it certainly is, but not all. Things were put into motion by another, and others added to the downfall. This is a story of the corruption of Wonderland and the loss of innocence, and it is sad. But that is the price of knowledge. Sometimes the answers to “why” and “how” change the story more than expected.
This book was our choice for our Teen Book Club for July, so fulfills the CBR12 Bingo square of “Book Club”