Before the roses were painted red: A book review on Heartless by Marissa Meyer

“Off with her head!”

When I think about the Queen of Hearts, the first image that comes to mind is a cruel and bloodthirsty monarch who has a penchant for chopping people’s heads off. The Queen of Hearts is well known for her savagery. First appearing in Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland, she is a fairly popular character who has appeared in movies and video games where she always plays the role of a fiend. However, Heartless is a book that portrays the Queen of Hearts in a different light. It gives an interesting backstory behind the brutal madness of this notorious villain.

Isn’t the cover so pretty? I love it!

Heartless is a book written by Marissa Meyer. She is an American novelist who published her first book, Cinder, in 2012 and this became a New York Times bestseller. Before writing her first novel, Marissa Meyer was a book editor for five years and she also wrote fanfiction under the name of Alicia Blade. When asked what inspired her to write Heartless Marissa Meyer stated that she once discussed with her agent that she wished Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, had also written the origin story of the Queen of Hearts. Fortunately, her agent recognized that this was an opportunity for a good story and managed to convince Marissa Meyer to write it.


Long before Alice fell down the rabbit hole and before the roses were painted red, The Queen of Hearts was just a girl who was in love for the first time.

Lady Catherine Pinkerton is the daughter of the Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove. She is a very talented baker who dreams of opening a bakery with her friend, Mary Ann, and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with her delectable creations. However, her parents are unsupportive of her dreams because it was not fitting for her status.

In a royal ball, Catherine meets Jest who is the newly appointed Joker. Handsome, talented, and witty, she finds herself drawn to him. They flirt and she cannot help but think that he shares an uncanny resemblance with the man in her dream.

During the ball, The King of Hearts confesses to Catherine that he is interested in having her as his wife and he plans to declare this at the end of the ball. Catherine is not attracted to the King and she is devastated when she learns about his feelings for her. She convinces the Cheshire Cat to cause a commotion to prevent the king from announcing their proposal during the ball and she leaves the ball early with the help of Jest. When she arrives home, she learns from her parents that a Jabberwock suddenly appeared in the ball and mauled two courtiers before disappearing. However, despite having witnessed the appearance of a dangerous beast, Catherine’s mother was more concerned about having Catherine regain the good graces of the King.

Catherine and her parents did not have to wait long for the opportunity to regain the good graces of the King. After a few days, the King announces that he is hosting a tea party and they were invited. Knowing that the King is fond of her creations, Catherine bakes him macaroons using the roses which magically appeared in her room after she dreams about Jest. Catherine re-encounters Jest in the tea party but he acts as if he has never met her. She sees the King again and with the help of Jest, she manages to convince him that she would prefer to be courted because a marriage proposal seemed too sudden for her, even if he was a king.

When Catherine returns home, she is surprised that the King had taken her request to be courted seriously by visiting her home. Her parents are pleased but she is dismayed because she has already developed feelings for Jest. After the King’s visit, Catherine is surprised when she finds Jest outside the window of her bedroom. He invites her to attend a tea party with him in the middle of the night and she agrees.
Jest sneaks her away to Hatta’s hat shop. The party was unique and entertaining as the guests take turns in amusing each other by doing a quick performance that showcases their talents. However, the party is cut short when the Jabberwock suddenly attacks. Jest and Hatta help the guests escape but the Lion is snatched away by the Jabberwock as he protects Catherine who was trying to save the Turtle.

Catherine is shaken by the experience. Jest manages to bring her home safely. During their journey, he reveals to her that he is not from the Kingdom of Hearts. He is actually from the Land of Chess and the White Queen had sent him to the Kingdom of Hearts to complete a mission. Once Catherine is safely back in her bedroom, she confesses most of what she encountered to her best friend and servant, Mary Ann who tells her that she must be falling in love with Jest. She also warns Catherine not to be too naive. Jest could simply be feigning his affections and playing with her feelings because she is the daughter of the Marquess and heiress to Rock Turtle Cove.

The King continues to court Catherine while Jest vies for her attention discretely. In each of these encounters, Catherine finds herself falling even more deeply in love with Jest but she is confused why his actions are so misleading. One day, the King invites Catherine to the theater, and once again, the Jabberwock attacks from out of nowhere. Jest tries to fight the Jabberwock. Concerned about Jest, Catherine joins the fray and by magic, she pulls out the Vorpal Sword from Jest’s fallen hat that was lying on the floor. The Jabberwock sees the Vorpal Sword and flees but Catherine is badly wounded from the encounter.

To save her, Jest takes her to the Treacle Well to have her wounds healed. He then reveals to her the truth about the mission that the White Queen gave him. He tells her that he was sent to the Kingdom of Hearts so that he could steal the heart of future Queen of Hearts. Stealing Catherine’s heart would end the eternal war between the Red Kingdom and the White Kingdom in the Land of Chess. However, Jest has lost his resolve to complete the mission because he has fallen in love with her.
After the pair returns to Rock Turtle Cove, Jest is arrested for kidnapping Catherine. To save Catherine’s reputation, Jest crafts a lie that he bewitched her which the King and Catherine’s parents believe. However, before he could be imprisoned, Jest escapes by transforming into a bird and the King vows to find him. Heartbroken, Catherine finally accepts the King’s proposal because she believes that Jest would never return.

The King hosts a party to celebrate their engagement. Jest appears to Catherine in the party in disguise. He informs her that everything isn’t over yet. He has a plan on how they can end the war in the Land of Chess, how Catherine can still have her bakery and how they can still be together. Catherine believes him and she follows him. He takes her to Hatta who leads them to the location of the Looking Glass, which was the entrance that led to the Land of Chess.

Before Catherine could go through the Looking Glass, she hears a scream from one of the magical doorways which led back to the Kingdom of Hearts. Disregarding the warning that Hatta gives her, she goes through the doorway which resembled the pumpkin farm of Lord Peter. She discovers that Mary Ann was being held captive by Peter so that he could feed her to his wife who turns out to be the Jabberwock. A battle ensues and Catherine was able to slay the Jabberwock. However, Jest is killed during the battle and Catherine is heartbroken. She begins to fester with rage when she learns that Lord Peter had escaped.

Consumed with bitterness and desperation, Catherine strikes a deal with the three sisters who guard the location of the Looking Glass. She would trade her heart and in return the sisters would find Sir Peter and bring him back to her so she could exact vengeance. The sisters agree. Shrouded with grief, Catherine becomes more distant from her family and friends as she becomes the Queen of Hearts. As the sisters finally manage to track down Sir Peter, she willingly hands over her heart and uses her influence over the King of Hearts to have Peter beheaded.


As shallow as it sounds, the first thing that caught my eye was the cover of the book! It just looks so pretty. I love how the artist gave the girl on the cover a heart-shaped face and a prominent, cupid’s bow. All a reference to the bloodthirsty character that Catherine would transform into by the end of the book. Other than the design, the colors used in the cover were eye-catching. The black and the metallic red combination contrasts so well with the background and it truly caught my eye when I saw it in Kinokuniya, Dubai Mall, Dubai, UAE.

The book truly does give the Queen of Hearts a human side. Reading about Catherine’s hopes and dreams, along with her stubborn determination to achieve them gave dimension to the one-dimensional character of The Queen of Hearts. As I flipped through the pages of the story, I couldn’t help but grow to like Catherine. She is ambitious and very determined. Despite the stream of discouragement she receives from her parents, she still pursues her passion for baking. She is also a dreamer who one day wishes to open a bakery. Unlike most nobles, she is humble and down to earth because she is willing to befriend servants and get her hands dirty to achieve her dreams. We also observe that she is both brave and caring as she willingly puts her life at risk to save others across different events in the book. Marissa Meyer did such a great job in humanizing Catherine, that I felt bad when she became heartless by the end of the book. It was such a shame to see a prominent and likable heroine regress into a villain.

I also enjoyed that the book gave The Mad Hatter an origin story. He was always an interesting character and it was fun to read about the unique twist that drove Hatta mad. Like Catherine, he was in love with Jest but these feelings were unrequited and his death triggered Hatta’s descent to insanity where he transforms into The Mad Hatter.

As interesting as Jest seemed, he wasn’t my favorite character. I like becoming familiar with the character in a book and I enjoy reading about their likes, dislikes, and back story. With Jest, I felt that because he was so mysterious, I did not get the chance to know him and I kept wondering to myself: Who is the man behind the Joker’s façade? However, I do understand that the mystery is part of his appeal. Jest wouldn’t be Jest if he was an open book.

The love story between Catherine and Jest is tragic. The two of them seemed fated to be together and it was incredibly frustrating that they lost their chance of having their happily ever after because Catherine chose to save Marie Ann. Even though I was aware that their love story was doomed from the beginning, the plot twist still left me reeling. I can’t help but be frustrated with Catherine for being so stubborn. She completely disregards Hatta’s warning of what would happen if she chose to save Mary Ann and I was so annoyed when she pins the blame on Hatta at the very end of the book. However, even though the story did not end how I wanted it to end, I can say that the novel was an incredibly good read. This is because even after I finished the last page, I found myself so emotionally invested with the tale that I couldn’t stop thinking of alternate endings. What would have happened if Catherine ignored Mary Ann’s scream and she decided to go through the Looking Glass? How would Catherine, Jest, and Hatta’s life be like in the Land of Chess? Would the Kingdom of Hearts be able to survive with a Jabberwock in their midst? Hahaha to me, getting trapped thinking about alternate endings or scenarios is the mark of a great novel!

In summary, Heartless transports you to a magical world and it shows you that before there was the Queen of Hearts, there was once just a girl who only wanted to fall in love. Overall, I truly enjoyed the book, I highly recommend it and I hope that this will have a movie adaptation someday!

Quotable Quotes

“But hoping,” he said, “is how the impossible can be possible after all.” – Cheshire Cat in Heartless

“It is a dangerous thing to unbelieve something only because it frightens you.” – Catherine in Heartless

“The easiest way to steal something, is for it to be given willingly.” – Catherine in Heartless

“This was why she enjoyed baking. A good dessert could make her feel like she’d created joy at the tips of her fingers. Suddenly, the people around the table were no longer strangers. They were friends and confidantes, and she was sharing with them her magic.”
– Marissa Meyer in

“A heart, once stolen, can never be taken back.” – Hatta in Heartless

“To be all right implies an impossible phase. We hope for mostly right on the best of our days.” – Raven in Heartless

“Impossible is my specialty.” – Jest in Heartless

“Mind my words, Cheshire, I will have you banished from this kingdom if you tempt me.”
“An empty threat from an empty girl.”
She rounded on him, teeth flashing. “I am not empty. I am full to the brim with murder and revenge. I am overflowing and I do not think you wish for me to

“For the murder of Jest, the court joker of Hearts, I sentence this man to death.’
She spoke without feeling, unburdened by love or dreams or the pain of a broken heart. It was a new day in Hearts, and she was the Queen.
‘Off with his head”
– Mariss Meyer in Heartless

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