Synopsis: Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. 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 a secret courtship.
Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.
At a certain point, I really have to start blaming myself. Do I have no idea of my own interests? Because I truly thought this would end up on my all-time favorites shelf, my first add to an as-yet-nonexistent 2017 favorites list. Is that not a fair expectation? After all, Alice in Wonderland is my favorite book, Marissa Meyer one of my favorite authors. This came in the best Owlcrate subscription box of all time. The rating is high. What went wrong for this book?
For starters, there’s not an ounce of Wonderland in this setting. Wonderland is a masterpiece, a marvel, a beautiful place where nothing makes sense and everyone is mad. This was just the Lunar Chronicles, with a shitty half-hearted attempt at a mid-nineteenth century twist and various direct quotes and concepts from Wonderland forced in.
This was an uncreative disappointment. Meyer takes her ideas from Carroll (“six impossible things before breakfast,” for example, is a recurring statement), from Edgar Allan Poe (a f*cking raven that randomly says “nevermore”? f*ck offffffff), from nursery rhymes (Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater receives shocking attention – to avoid spoilers I’ll just say its incorporation is unBEARABLY dumb). When Meyer is left to her own devices, the Wonderland-ness of it all is dropped entirely, only to be forced in through a name-drop of the Looking Glass or the “Tweedle twins” in a few pages.
This really was just an insult to the setting of Wonderland. The Caterpillar, the marvelous creature with his hookah, is a COBBLER. Why don’t you just hurt me physically, if you insist upon such emotional pain? There’s a street full of businesses, balls, a standard court system…It’s just the worst.
And I’ve decided I only want one thing from this world. (The real one, not Wonderland.) There is one difference I’d like to make, one change I need to instill, and I can die happy. This is about to get predominantly featured in my Goodreads bio, because that’s how important it is. And that goal?: STOP INCORPORATING THE JABBERWOCKY INTO YOUR ALICE IN WONDERLAND RETELLINGS. I can’t even convey the sheer FURY this makes me experience. First Tim Burton, then Christina Henry, and now THIS? THE JABBERWOCK IS NOT FROM WONDERLAND. THAT’S A POEM, YOU ABSOLUTE IMBECILES. When you make your Wonderland protagonist fight the Jabberwock, you’re spitting in the face of literature. Spitting. In. Its. Face. I am shaking with anger. It’s not even original anymore. It’s become cliché in addition to boring, stupid, and further Carroll-stealing. COME UP WITH YOUR OWN VILLAINS, YOU UNCREATIVE MISCREANTS.
I’ll force myself to move past the crimes against Wonderland that have been committed here and discuss the shortcomings of the story itself. For starters, it’s a trope. It’s a poor little rich girl story, a pretty teen member of the court throwing a tantrum over an arranged marriage. I just don’t care much about stories like this. Give me some stakes! Sure, she wants love, whatever, but like…can there be some risk to this boring plotline? Snore.
Plus there’s a surprise appearance from the worst romantic cliché of all time: the you’re not like other girls appeal, made famous by the manic pixie dream girl character archetype and everything written by John Green. I haven’t seen this piece of garbage in a while! A surprising amount of time, actually. But just when you’d think that all these old-ass weirdos writing books for us youths had finally caught onto something, here it shows up again. “You’re different from the other lords and ladies here. I’m sure that any other girl would have started throwing rocks at me if I showed up at her bedroom window.” As if their boring romance weren’t awful enough already!
Oh yeah, that’s another thing. This isn’t even a good love story, in my humble yet pretentiously delivered opinion. (Is it better if I’m aware of it?) Unless I’m misremembering or was in a relatively fragile emotional state for all four books + the novellas, the Lunar Chronicles series contained some stellar romancin’. I didn’t get that here. As a reader, I felt like they met a couple of times and then I was suddenly supposed to buy them as a Titanic-level epic love story. Which I, like, didn’t. So.
And I didn’t even like either of the characters in the romance. Jest was super flat to me – is anyone else noticing a phenomenon in which an author makes a male love interest super physically attractive and mildly funny and then just dusts off their hands and says, have at ’em, fangirls? Like, it’s a little more complicated than that. Jest was a total snooze for me. Which is better than Cath, I s’pose, because that gal was on my last nerve for 90% of this book. (I guess I have durable nerves?) Is it weird to say I hate the way her mind works? I was sick of being stuck inside her cyclical, repetitive complaining. Plus she makes dumb choices, and goes from as cavity-inducingly-sweet as the in-depth descriptions of her pastries to having a legit anger management issue in a hot second.
Yes, the whole point of this book was to provide a backstory for the Queen of Hearts, letting the reader in on what happened to change her from ~normal chick~ (albeit not like other girls, lol) to total villain. And in some ways that happened? Those ways being that we were given a plotline. But the emotions changed in one massive leap. (Like the definition of bipolar disorder so misleadingly given in When We Collided!)
On a sidenote, can someone tell me what “Her cheek fluttered” means? Because that’s a line from this book. One that made me, alone in my room, go What?
But this book was also just boring. It never grabbed me. Maybe that’s because I found both the setting and the characters lacking. It honestly could be my fault. But heaped upon all these other problems I had, I didn’t even get to have a good time while reading this. It just felt sooooo long.
In terms of positives, I liked that Jest wore eyeliner. More of that in male love interests, please. #EveryoneWearEyeliner2k17
Bottom line: This was another instance of Meyer giving a villain a meh backstory through the loss of love, but this one’s problems hit me closer to home. If you don’t worship at the altar of Alice as much as I do, you may be able to get past some of its flaws…but this was one of the most massive disappointments I’ve been hit with in a while.