Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the yet-unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with delectable pastries and confections. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next Queen.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the king’s marriage proposal, she 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.
Marissa Meyer writing another fairytale retelling? I was pretty excited, and though it took me months to finally start reading the book, I was prepared to be enchanted by the Wonderland that Meyer would create. You see, any Alice retelling would have to include the whimsy and the magic of Wonderland, and make it like a place where logic doesn’t really exist. So imagine my disappointment when this wonderland was more like the Victorian society that Alice escapes to come to Wonderland (in the Tim Burton movie). I think it is partly because our narrator, Catherine Pinkerton, is born in Wonderland and thus it is not really something new and wondrous for her – for her it is the usual, too-casual kingdom and court, with people who care more about balls than a monster running around. But even so, the fact that it still does not display Wonderland as a land of wild magic made me like this a little less.
About the plot, well, it was a good story, but it is slow-paced in the first half. You have Catherine determined to become a baker but failing to bring it up with her parents again and again. She is soon expected to accept the King of Hearts’ proposal, but falls in love with his Joker instead. Theirs is a cute romance, and I couldn’t help but loving how adorable they are. In that part, at least, you see a little of Wonderland peeking through, with his magic and her dreams. Hatter and his shop were a great addition, too. But the real plot moves into place quite late into the story – that of her and Chess, and the reason she becomes the Queen of Hearts. I fairly had an idea of what would happen, but that did not stop from my heart breaking along with hers. As a character, Cath really grows from a simplistic girl to a vengeance-filled Queen.
Oh, and there are plenty of Alice allusions and shout-outs for a fan to be happy, but it seems not to fit as a true prequel, you see. It takes a lot of elements from the Alice in Wonderland story and places them here, so it does not allow for those elements to be continued onto the original. Nevertheless, as a standalone existing outside that universe, it is a good book.