Official Summary: 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.
My Thoughts: As a Lunar Chronicles fan, I was expecting to like this book, but I didn’t think it would live up to its retelling predecessor. As with playing croquet with flamingos and hedgehogs, I was very wrong. The beautiful prose and masterful storytelling blew me away. Stepping away from sci-fi versions of favorite old fairy tales, Meyer stays true to Carroll’s original world in this Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland prequel. She builds fascinating backstories for several of the iconic denizens of Wonderland, as well as creating a few new ones to capture our hearts. Even knowing how Cath’s story inevitably ends, you find yourself hoping that maybe, somehow, she just might manage to succeed in living her dream of owning a bakery and living happily ever after with Jest.
Catherine Pinkerton is presented to the reader as the daughter of the marquess and marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove and an avid lover of baking. Despite being actively pursued by the king to be his bride (and thus Queen of Hearts), Cath would much rather run a bakery with her friend and lady-in-waiting Mary Ann. Not one to give up, Cath attempts multiple different avenues in order to accomplish this venture. Throughout the novel she also grapples with the concept of being a coward. She is afraid to disappoint her parents by not accepting the king’s proposal and is afraid to choose Jest over the king. Despite this, she still faces down the fearsome Jabberwock and can always be counted upon to stand up for what she believes or who she cares about when they are threatened. She fancies herself selfish, and yet makes very selfless decisions. However, if you cross her, you are dead to her. And, knowing she is the future Queen of Hearts, I think you can imagine just how literal that is.
Jest, despite being sold as “handsome and mysterious,” does not embody those qualities in the manner of the typical YA Hero. In fact, he is a very unconventional love interest: he is the court joker. Frequently donning kohl and a three-pointed hat adorned with bells, he is not the suave, uber-masculine man come to woo Lady Pinkerton. Even when **SPOILER** he outs himself as a Rook from Chess on a mission, he does not become godlike in his conduct. Until the end, he remains earnest and sincere. He is the boy you want to protect, even though you know he’ll be protecting you. Despite his goals, he is an innocent. A dimpled innocent.
My only real complaint is that it introduced the element of prophecy very late in the novel. This struck me as unnecessary, as it came so late in the novel and we already had an interesting thing going with the concept of Time.
As far as diversity goes, well, there really isn’t any. This was something Meyer had done brilliantly with in The Lunar Chronicles and something I know she values so I was a bit surprised to find such a lack of it. One of the few places we find it is with Cath herself. Cath is frequently described as a bigger girl (without the help of a corset) and seemingly gets larger as the story progresses. But this seems less to do with representation and more to do with the Queen of Hearts previously being portrayed as a bigger woman. The other bit of representation we get is with Hatta. As the story progresses, he struggles more and more with mental illness. But the exact symptoms are vague and this, again, has more to do with the fact that he becomes the Mad Hatter than anything else. We also discover late in the novel that Hatta **SPOILER** is in love with Jest. But this is not dealt with and is mentioned only briefly. I had thought Mary Ann would be sapphic representation because there were a few scenes in which she seemed moments away from admitting to Catherine she loved her, but this was never explored. Perhaps I’m more forgiving of Meyer than I would be another writer because she has previously done well with representation, but I did not feel it was a deal breaker in reading this book.
Ultimately, I loved this book. The romance was beautifully written and the characters came alive on page one. Highlights are Jest’s introduction scene, the first well scene, and the final line. Out of the nearly one hundred books I’ve read this year, this is hands down one of the best. After all, any complaints are just stuff and nonsense.
My Rating: 5/5
(This review was originally posted on my Tumblr.)