The lovely people at Harper Voyager must think I am super lonely, because they keep sending me fantasy romance novels (don’t stop). As this is the week of Valentine’s Day, I decided it would probably be appropriate to review one of the standout reads from the group. That one in particular is Heartstone, by Elle Katherine White. I am not immensely familiar with the works of Jane Eyre, but the book distinctly feels like a piece evoking her writing style in a fantasy setting – a version of Pride and Prejudice I can really get behind. It turns out the addition of dragons makes almost any book something I am interesting in.
Heartstone tells the story of Aliza, a quaint farm girl, who is the middle daughter of a fairly large family with a ton of girls. Her home is being raided by wild griffons, and things have come to a head when the most recent attack leaves her youngest sister dead. To deal with the menace, the town bands together and spends enough money to hire riders – essentially mythical exterminators, The riders are all warriors that have bonded with mythical animals to help them combat other creatures, and the warrior’s companions run the gamut from large super bear to wyvern. However, there is one family – and only one – that have bonded with one of the greatest creatures of all, dragons. Our male love interest in the story is, of course, from this family, and is one of the riders who comes to the village to deal with the griffins. While I am no expert at romance novels, this seems to me a fairly standard set-up for most novels (minus awesome dragons) and I was ready for a decent story with some of my favorite giant lizards thrown in for some flair. What I was not ready for was how good Elle Katherine White is at worldbuilding.
The characters in Heartstone are good, interesting and immersive to the point where I was invested in their lives and story, but what really drew me in was the world that White has crafted. The setting and politics of Heartstone are extremely well developed, making the world feel like a real place that people inhabit. The creatures and places of the story are some of the coolest I have read in recent memory. You have things like forge-wrights, creatures of flame and metal that work smithies and craft things out of heartstone (the hearts of other mythic creatures) with their bare hands. Or several locations with rich histories and vividly described towns and homes that stand out in my memory. This is a world I want to be in longer and more. The riders themselves fascinate me. White dives in to their training and history slightly, but not nearly enough for my liking. This story left me wanting to hear more and more of White’s world because I didn’t get nearly enough.
The issues of Heartstone stem just from that, it is too short. I felt like White needed to make this a trilogy – something I don’t often say – because it just needed more space. I felt the relationships in the story developed a little too rapidly, the ending was a bit abrupt, and I was left wanting to see a lot more of the world than I got to. However, as they say, if your critique of a book is that there needed to be more of it, it is a sign you were enjoying yourself.
As I said, I do not usually go in for romance novels, but Heartstone had me invested from start to finish. While its short length took away from a bit of my enjoyment, I have also marked down Elle Katherine White as one of the most exciting debut authors I have read in awhile. I will certainly be paying attention to her future releases as I think she will have a successful writing career ahead of her. I would love to see White write an epic fantasy with this level of worldbuilding. Regardless, if you are looking for a little romance this week, or like Pride and Prejudice but think it needed more dragons, The Quill to Live recommends you check out Heartstone.
Rating: Heartstone – 7.5/10