Summary: 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. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)
Review: Cath just wants to bake. As a lady of the court, she typically can only sneak into the kitchens to practice her passion. Her mother only allows her to bake because the King of Hearts is so taken with her treats. She dreams of opening a bakery with her best friend and maid, Mary Ann, who has such a head for business and numbers it's astounding. But then one night she dreams of a man with golden eyes. As golden as lemons, in fact, so imagine her surprise when she wakes up from her dreams with a lemon tree in her room. This is Wonderland, however, and dreaming a dream into reality isn't exactly news. How else do you think Cheshire Cat came to be?
Marissa Meyer is tackling a different retelling through this book. Instead of adapting and updating a series of fairy tales into a new story like she did with Cinder and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles, she's tackling the untouched origins of the brutal, mad Queen of Hearts. Origin stories can be tricky -- look no further than Star Wars 1-3. You enter the story knowing the ending, and have to somehow work backward to ascertain how the villain became such. It can go wrong quickly and without much warning, because so many readers expect to feel a certain camaraderie with the protagonist. It's difficult to see a character so loved become the antagonist.
So, did Meyer "Annie" the Queen of Hearts? (Seriously? Annie? How did George Lucas think that would ever be an okay nickname for Darth Vader? Seriously.) I'm so pleased to report that no, no she did not. Meyer has taken on quite a task here, not only trying to inject a modicum of humanity into a truly loathsome character everyone knows, but doing so in the unpredictable, mad, rich world of Wonderland. Through getting to experience the true, sweeping love of Jest and Cath, battling the Jabberwock (and discovering exactly how the Jabberwock came to be), attending a tea party at the Hatter's (pre-madness, but don't worry, we cover that, too!), and the courtship and eventual betrothal of Cath to the King of Hearts, I found myself not even questioning the journey from sweet, adventurous baker to psychopathic ruler of Wonderland. More so, I found myself so gutted by Cath's heartbreak that the transition seemed inevitable and mostly logical.
Meyer has a special talent for taking stories that everyone knows, that everyone could recite by heart, and by turning them on their heads in a way that not only preserves the integrity of the originals, but breathes fresh and new life into them. Her venture into Wonderland was so rich, well-detailed, and true to character that I had no problem wrapping my mind around this version. It's as though she collaborated with Lewis Carroll in the writing of the story. My only complaint is that this isn't a new series. I was not emotionally prepared to bid Cath farewell!
Rating: Four stars
For the Sensitive Reader: Sir Peter Peter (the Pumpkineater) is emotionally and physically abusive. There are a couple of murders, and the Jabberwock attacks are intense. That said, I think a thirteen year old would enjoy this book.