This book was very kindly given to me by one of my good friends for a birthday present. Incidentally she happens to be the one who requested for this review, so being a nice, kind and loving friend, here I am reviewing it. The copy I got came with a handwritten note on the flyleaf wishing me a happy birthday even though I think Emily is better than Anne. Well, I don’t think that. It’s obvious. And she can’t really judge that because she hasn’t even finished reading the Emily trilogy. But anyway, here you go, Kori.
Author: Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Genre: Allegorical fantasy
POV: Third person
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Heartless is set in the fantasy world of Goldstone Wood, where the usual kings, queens and princes abound. It should come as no surprise that the protagonist of this book is one Princess Una of Parumvir, a feisty eighteen year old girl who believes that her age deems her eligible for suitors to come a-courting. At the same time, the legendary Twelve Years’ Market has come to town, an occasion buzzing with magic and excitement for Princess Una and her brother, Prince Felix.
It is there that Una meets her first suitor, but he is completely different from her hopes of dashing gallantry. On the contrary, he is so nondescript that she didn’t even notice him at first glance. And with a name like Aethelbald, what more is there to say? She snubs him when he asks for her hand in marriage to turn to more appealing princes who have caught her fancy.
A seemingly random jester shows up out of nowhere, professing to be a prince in disguise, and Una is smitten with him despite his inability to prove his story. But meanwhile, Aethelbald is still persisting to woo Una, also bringing a warning of dragons in the vicinity. Una is disgusted with him, but could this have any bearing on the dreams she has started to have for quite some time now, or the burn marks on her hands?
Before I get into summarising the whole book and spoiling plot, here’s my take on the book if you’re interested in it. It was…okay I guess. But I didn’t LOVE it. But nor did I hate it. I don’t know about readers everywhere else, but at some points in the book I wanted some of the characters to die because they were getting a bit annoying. I won’t reveal which character because then it would obvious that he/she didn’t die. And…I didn’t really feel a bond to our princessy protagonist Una. She wasn’t very likeable nor did she show much bravery that I should admire her. I know, I know, that sounds rather feministic to shun a character for not showing strength; but that was simply my thoughts as I read.
There was this one part in the book when Una started to show traces of becoming strong, but she hated that acquired strength. And although it really was a bad strength and she was right not to want it, I actually wanted her to luxuriate in her power for a while and devastate people with it, just to show the evil that could grow in her. And then after that sure she could become good again. (I’m purposely being obscure. Come back and read this review after you’ve read the book and you’ll understand.) But she was too, um… “inherently good”? I don’t really know how to express that.
Oh, and I might as well tell you that this is an allegory and that Aethelbald is the Jesus figure in this, while Una is meant to be us. At least that’s what I garnered from reading. But at quite a few points in the book I wanted Aethelbald to just die and not get away so easily. And I wanted Una to never eventually want him. I think I’m giving away too much. Sorry.
Okay, now for the more structural critique and not all based on my opinion. A few of the characters seemed underdeveloped (for example the king because he was a bit random), and the writing style seemed a bit random at some points. Apparently I’m supposed to read the sequel to find out why certain characters did certain things, but hey, if you don’t even like the first book that much, what makes the author think we’ll stick around for the second?
Now it’s time to be nice. I did sort of like the Nurse, who seemed to be the antidote for Una’s imagination taking her too far. And I suppose the allegory itself was woven in rather smoothly, so that a non-Christian would not be able to see the underlying connotations so clearly. But other than that…hmm…I’m sorry maybe I need to go and read it again but I don’t think I have other positive critique to give.
So in conclusion, Heartless didn’t really do much for me as a book. As I said, I’m neutral. But maybe it would be better for younger readers who still love the world of fantasy and royalty. Not insulting any older readers who enjoyed this book, but these are just my opinions.