YA Weekend: Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf
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: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Entangled Teen (June 5, 2018)
Length: 400 pages
Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf was so much fun—much more fun than its grisly premise would lead you to believe. The book stars Zera, who was murdered in a brutal bandit attack when she was just sixteen years old, but was then “saved” when the witch Nightsinger resurrected her by carving out her heart, keeping the organ safe in a magical jar. Now Zera has become a Heartless—immortal, un-ageing, and unkillable by any earthly means, but this all comes at a very steep price. She is forever bound to serve Nightsinger, and to prevent herself from transforming into a mindless ravening monster, Zera must consume raw meat regularly to stave off the hunger.
For three long years, Zera has dreamed of becoming human again, which would only happen if Nightsinger gave her back her heart. But now, the witch would give her that very chance to earn back her humanity—with the stipulations being high-risk and dangerous, of course. Another Sunless War is threatening to break out, and in order to stop it from happening, the witches need a hostage they can control completely. Crown Prince Lucien would make the perfect target—but only if he can be turned Heartless. To lure him into the witches’ trap, Zera has been tasked to pose as a potential bride at the next Spring Welcoming, where she will mingle at the court, ingratiate herself with the other nobles, and attempt to steal Lucien’s heart—literally.
Without a doubt, what made this book such a delightfully entertaining read was its main character. Zera is always quick on her feet with a wisecrack retort, but she does it in such an easy and charming way that it’s hard not to like her immediately, especially when most of the victims of her sharp tongue deserve it. I can’t remember the last time I’ve cheered so hard for a protagonist, watching her take the royal court by storm and catching everyone there unawares. But Zera is also more than just a smart mouth and a sassy attitude; deep down she is also wrestling with a past filled with darkness and guilt. In fact, as time goes on, we find out that most of the time her flippancy is her response to her feelings of fear, loneliness, and uncertainty. As insistent as she is on calling herself a monster, she seemed wholly human to me, and for a girl with no heart who claims everything she does is to further her own gains, she sure cares a great deal about others.
The world-building in this book is also exquisite. The relationship between a witch and a Heartless is a little like the one between a vampire and their thralls, except it is much more intricate and nuanced. Heartless are a witch’s personal soldiers, but not all witches treat their Heartless like expendable chattel, and Nightsinger and Zera actually have something close to an affectionate bond. But while a witch can channel their magic into their Heartless to heal and help them, they can also put an end to them instantly by shattering their hearts in their magical jars, which means any kind of attachment between Nightsinger and Zera is still a very unbalanced power dynamic. This is a world full of old gods and ancient magic, and that’s just one of many mysterious and complex systems working behind the scenes. Bitter rivalries and backstabbing powerplays also rage in the royal court of Vetris, which would ultimately determine whose influence wins out, affecting the fates of both humans and witches alike.
The romance should be discussed here too, since it is so integral to the plot. That Zera and Lucien will eventually fall in love is sort of a foregone conclusion, because otherwise, where would be the conflict? Still, I liked that their romantic arc was developed steadily and carefully, with both of them getting to know each other before falling in love. It’s the crux of the novel’s premise after all, since it would be much easier to betray someone and rip out their heart if you saw them as a soulless enemy, but that changes drastically if the man you thought was a stuck-up and callous prince actually turned out to be a good person, with a lifetime full of hopes, dreams, and desires.
To my surprise, this was one of the best YA romances I’ve read in a while, though there were plenty of other relationships at play here that also deserve a mention, including the one between Zera and Lady Y’shennria, the noblewoman helping the witches by pretending to be Zera’s aunt. In truth, I probably enjoyed following their interactions even more than I enjoyed watching Zera and Lucien, because there was just something so earnest and heartbreaking about the desperate way Zera constantly sought Lady Y’shennria’s approval. When they eventually acknowledged each other like true family, I might have even shed a tear or two.
Only a few flaws kept this book from a perfect rating. First, Zera reminds readers every few pages that all she wants is her heart and getting it back is the most important thing to her, yet she sure seems to enjoy sabotaging herself any chance to gets by not sticking the plan or by taking stupid risks. Second, after a while, it becomes clear that everyone involved is on the same side and wants the same thing, which made me think that a good sit-down and bit of decent communication could have solved a lot of problems and made everything a lot less complicated. Third, there was this awful cliffhanger—except what happened was also kind of predictable, so I’m still torn as to what to think about the ending.
Still, when all is said and done, I had a great time with this book. Bring Me Their Hearts had everything I could ever want from a YA novel—superb world-building, a fantastically well-written story, and a phenomenal protagonist I could emphatically root for. I originally set out to read this story about Heartless and heart-taking, never once expecting it to steal my heart so quickly and completely too. But now I am irrevocably hooked, and I want more.