Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Heartless Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Queen of Hearts origin story is fanciful, not too dark.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 27 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Enters the world of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and imagines the early life of the story's villain, the Queen of Hearts. Readers can compare the classic to this reimagining. An author's note describes how Marissa Meyer used the Hatter's riddle from the original -- "Why is a raven like a writing-desk?" -- as inspiration for a major scene in the book introducing the character Jest. She also explains why sometimes she strayed from "societal rules and norms" of Victorian England, the time period in which the original was written. Readers can look up this time period and think about what this means. What choices were really available to women at the time, and how did they act around potential suitors?

Positive Messages

Revenge is the most powerful force here, the need for it all-consuming, making this a strong cautionary tale. You must weigh the expectations of your family with your own desires. Villains aren't born evil; circumstances help make them that way. Knowing this can help you understand and have compassion for a villain.

Positive Role Models & Representations

We're seeing the birth of the Queen of Hearts, so this character goes from hopeful, driven, and dreamy to vengeful and cruel. Since readers already know the vengeful and cruel part, seeing the Queen of Hearts before her transformation is what will stick with them.


Taking the title literally, a character does lose a heart -- and willingly. And of course two heads are chopped off with the threat of another. A large Jabberwocky beast carries off three minor characters, is blinded in one eye by a raven, and is stabbed with a sword. An ankle is broken and magically healed. Talk of an old hatter going mad and killing himself. Talk of a constant bloody war in the land of Chess.


Some kissing.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cordials and mulled wine at a party and wine with dinner with older teen character possibly drinking, but it's not said. Mr. Caterpillar smokes a large hookah.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Heartless is by Marissa Meyer, author of the best-selling Lunar Chronicles series. This stand-alone novel examines the possible origin story of the villainous Queen of Hearts from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. So don't expect a great role model here, but do expect to get a little empathy for a character who starts out hopeful and sweet and ends up consumed by revenge. If you know the classic tale (and it really helps to understand all the references, so you might want to brush up), you know that some heads will roll. Also, a heart is plucked out willingly and a Jabberwocky beast terrorizes the kingdom of Hearts, carrying off and probably eating a few minor characters. Wine and cordials show up at parties with barely a mention and of course our eccentric friend Mr. Caterpillar puffs away on his hookah.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bySamantha P. April 24, 2017

GREAT BOOK for all teens

I am 18 years old and struggle to find clean books. Most books for teens my age are too graphic. I do not care at all about violence. It has never bothered me.... Continue reading
Adult Written byBeclee101 November 1, 2018

Nice, easy, fast read. Leaves you thinking about things.....

Good book! Easy fast read, There is a lot of sensuality between two main characters, but overall a good fun read for most teens.
Teen, 17 years old Written bypandagirl917 May 6, 2018

It broke my heart in the best way

***Some spoilers below!!!***
I CRIED OVER THIS BOOK. This is a highly poignant novel and I would 10000% recommend it to anyone who wants to read a tragically be... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byCanadaFore February 14, 2018

A great book!

I read this book last year and I really enjoyed it! It explores topics like fate, love, and sacrifice. It was not too dark and Meyer gave insight as to why the... Continue reading

What's the story?

In HEARTLESS, Catherine, the best baker in all the Kingdom of Hearts, wants nothing more than to open a bakery with her best friend. She just has to work up the courage to ask her parents, the Marquess and Marchioness. But her parents have their hearts set on her marriage with the buffoonish king and don't intend to let her spend her dowry on a store. They're so set on the match that they don't even tell Catherine that a black-and-white ball they're attending is her engagement party. They just corset her up extra-tight beneath a bright red dress to catch everyone's attention. Catherine is mortified when the Cheshire Cat tells her what's going on, and she flees the ballroom. She races through the royal gardens and bumps into the king's new clever and mysterious court jester, Jest. And Catherine promptly faints -- the corset was that tight. As Jest helps revive her, she's instantly attracted to him, even confessing she had a dream about him and woke up to a lemon tree growing in her room. But what's Catherine to do with the king's engagement still looming? Could she have the bakery and Jest?

Is it any good?

With equal parts doomed-to-fail romance and the reimagined magic of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, this Queen of Hearts origin story satisfies but doesn't dig too deep. Or at least not as deep as expected after author Marissa Meyer's fantastic villain story Fairest. In that book, Meyer really gets to the core of why Queen Levana from her Lunar Chronicles series is so flawed, manipulative, and all-around terrible, and she gets readers to feel for Levana just enough. In Heartless, Meyer spends more time entertaining us with her take on Carroll's world, and the tension doesn't build as smoothly.

That said, the way this story entertains will make readers grin like the Cheshire Cat. The tea party scene, the description of Hatta's wild hats, and the turtle-and-lobster dance are all big fun ... so much fun you almost forget where the story is all headed -- or not headed. (Sorry.)

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about villains in Heartless. When was there no turning back for Catherine, making her destined for her role as Queen of Hearts? Is it all her own doing? Or is it mostly fate?

  • Compare author Marissa Meyer's vision with the original, classic story. Where has she made changes? What has she kept the same?

  • Why were you interested in Heartless? Have you read the author's popular Lunar Chronicles series? How does this book compare?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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