Book Review: Heartstone by Elle Katharine White
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Harper Voyager (January 17, 2017)
Length: 352 pages
Pride and Prejudice retellings and other Austenesque-inspired stories have traditionally been hit-or-miss with me, but there was something about Heartstone that drew me to it right away. Might it have been the dragons? Okay yeah, it was the dragons.
While I’ll be the first to admit I’m no aficionado on the works of Jane Austen, I am familiar enough with Pride and Prejudice to know that Heartstone is actually a pretty faithful rendition of the original, in some places following the plot so closely that I was surprised the author took such a direct route. The story follows Aliza Bentaine, the second of five daughters in a family living at Merybourne Manor. Their home has been set upon by monsters as of late, and six months ago tragedy struck as Aliza’s youngest sister was attacked and killed by one of the wild gryphons that have invaded the surrounding woods. This has led to the arrival of a band of Riders who have come to Merybourne to eradicate the creatures, and among them are the warriors Master Brysney and Master Daired.
Excited to have two noble bachelors visit the household, Aliza’s mother quickly ensures that her daughters would be present at the party to receive the Riders, and her hopes are answered as Brysney takes an immediate liking to Anjey, the eldest. Aliza herself, however, is unimpressed by Daired, whom she finds rude, arrogant, and standoffish. It also didn’t help that due to a hilarious misunderstanding, Daired started off their introductions by kicking Aliza’s good friend Tobble the hobgoblin clear across the yard. But in order to be polite to their guests, Aliza makes an effort to get to know the Riders and help them hunt the gryphon hordes in any way she can, even befriending Daired’s majestic mount, the dragon Akarra.
The publisher blurb for this book describes it as Elle Katharine White infusing Austen’s classic with her own brand of magic, and I find that wholly accurate. If you know your Pride and Prejudice, many of the major plot points in Heartstone won’t come as much of a surprise, i.e. just as Elizabeth and Darcy manage to find common ground and eventually fall in love, Aliza and Daired also come to an understanding with each other and gradually a romance blossoms between them. With the exception of the ending, I wouldn’t say that the strength of Heartstone is in its story since most of the plot closely mirrors the original, but what really shines is the world-building. White doesn’t stop at populating her book with all sorts of extraordinary creatures from hobgoblins and wyverns to lamias and lindworms, for she has also fleshed out the world with a vibrant culture that’s entirely of her own imagination. I loved how this world had its own history and religion, and even the dragons had their own set of traditions. One of the elements I most appreciated about this book was the fact that White did not set out to copy Austen’s style or reproduce the Regency period, because I doubt that would have worked as well for me.
Still, just when you think you’ve taken this book’s measure, the author does have a couple surprises hidden up her sleeve, waiting for the perfect time to spring them on the unsuspecting reader. I had briefly mentioned the ending, which definitely deserves more attention. For one thing, you most certainly won’t find anything like it in the original, and in a way I’m really glad this is where White decided to go “off-script” because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this book so much. Pride and Prejudice retelling or not, when a story features wyvern and dragon-riding warriors, I think it’s a safe bet that most readers would expect a battle scene or two to see them in action, and in this regard, I’m pleased to say Heartstone did not disappoint. That epic ending capped off what was for the most part a relatively tame and faithful retelling, and it was exactly what the book needed because I don’t think things could have wrapped up more perfectly.
In sum, Heartstone is described as a Pride and Prejudice retelling with fantasy elements, and for better or worse, that is exactly what you get—as in, right up until the grand finale, the plot matches up with the original almost perfectly, down to the similarity in character names, which at times can feel a bit disconcerting. That said though, I thought the decision to depart from the Regency style and language made this book a lot more readable and engaging, and the author’s own additions to the world are wonderfully original and well integrated. Whether you’re an Austen fan or not, I think you’ll also find that the world-building elements are a key highlight along with the story’s superb ending, and despite its strength of being a rather close retelling, there’s no denying Heartstone was at its best when it was doing its own thing, delving into the fantastical. All told it was a delightful experience that felt comfortably familiar and fresh all at once, and I highly recommend it.