Catherine allowed her favorite hedgehog to sit on her shoulder, so long as it stayed calm and agreed not to poke her neck with its quills. Beside her, a flamingo stood with one stick-leg tucked up into its feathers. It had horrible shrimp breath and Cath kept trying to sidestep slowly away. (113)
This book. Where to start. I knew going in that this couldn’t end happily given it documented the backstory of the Queen of Hearts. But it started so cheerfully and I so very much wanted Cath to succeed with her bakery dreams and live happily ever after with Jest. Looking back at my notes after reading the first third of the book, I was so naively hopeful. “This is so fun and perfectly quirky! The Wonderland world building is incredible! Must learn how to cook macaroons!” My only concern was having to reread sections to pick up details on how the courtiers were actual cards because Meyers did such a great job at subtly incorporating Wonderland’s unique traits without slamming you in the face with “this is how it is”. And now that I’ve finished…I believe my very first note post-book was “Oh my god. This book destroyed my heart.” This was one of the best books I’ve read in ages. The complexity of the story and world building and the long, drawn out emotional rollercoaster Meyers put us through was incredibly well done.
Jest and Cath’s love was so convincingly real. I loved the tension and slow build, and Cath’s deliberation between family loyalty and duty versus love and personal happiness was such a believable internal struggle that it created this perfectly crafted romance that I couldn’t help but hope would change Cath’s fate. But alas. Instead Meyers’ crushed my heart and left me with the worst book hangover I’ve had since A Conjuring of Light.
The twist of the Hatter’s love interest was something I NEVER expected and I absolutely loved. That little nugget was just tucked in there and if you were reading too fast or not paying attention (I’m frequently guilty of this), you never would have noticed it.
The world for this book was incredibly detailed but subtly built. At times I would pause and realize that the snippet of text I just read that had seemed normal at face value required a reread. The subtle quirkiness fitting to Wonderland was so ingrained in the story, nothing seemed out of place until a second look.
She stared up at the canopy and the waxy leaves that had grown up in the night. Green key-shaped fruits swayed overhead. [The closest] key lime was almost as big as her hand. It must have been made for a very large lock. (413)
As someone who hasn’t read Alice in Wonderland in well over a decade, it was so fun to rediscover this world. To remember, for example, in Alice in Wonderland that the courtiers are literal playing cards and some characters were actually animals and not humans (like Pygmalion Warthog, Duke of Tuskany, who was a literal pig). When I began to read this book, I had forgotten much of the eccentric traits of Wonderland and it was so great to be reintroduced to them.
The inevitable decline of Cath into the persona of the Queen of Hearts was gut-wrenchingly sad. Meyers did such an excellent job in creatively building events that led to Cath’s broken heart (quite literally broken – the imagery here was fantastic) so that she became the heartless, off-with-their-heads, white-rose-hating Queen of Hearts from Alice and Wonderland.
This was just an overall amazing book and I am so sad that it is over. There was some slight stagnation towards the middle with repetitive parties and slow plot progression, but the emotional wringer Meyers put us through and her delightfully subtle style of capturing Wonderland’s peculiarities were fantastically well done. I 100% recommend this book, but suggest you have a nice light book to read immediately afterwards because oh man does this mess with your emotions. I’ll leave you with this heart-wrenching quote:
“Catherine,” said the Marquess [Cath’s father], placing one hand on Cath’s shoulder and one on his wife’s. “We know you’ve been through some…difficult times recently.”
Anger, hot and throbbing, blurred her vision.
“We want you to be happy. That’s all we’ve ever wanted. Is this going to make you happy?”
Cath held his gaze, feeling the puncture of Raven’s talons on her shoulder, the weight of the rubies around her throat, the itch of her petticoat on her thighs.
“How different everything could have been,” she said, “if you had thought to ask me that before.”
She shrugged his arm away and pushed between them. She didn’t look back. (428)