I can guarantee that the vast majority of my readers will stop reading this review and race off to one-click as soon as I finish the following sentence: Heartstone is a loose retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in a fantasy world with talking dragons. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Aliza, her parents, and her sisters live in Merybourne Manor. The youngest sister, Rina, was killed by a gryphon. Her father hires a group of Riders (as in: dragon riders, the most elite social class) to get rid of the gryphons. The Riders are led by Alastair Daired, who is taciturn and snobby. Aliza’s sister, Anjey, is instantly attracted to Daired’s affable best friend, Brysney. However, for Aliza and Daired, it’s intense dislike at first sight.
There’s a lot happening in this book. We get a fairly faithful rendition of the plot of Pride and Prejudice, complete with embarrassing dancing and a wayward younger sister (Leyda). We also get an action-filled fantasy novel complete with sparring sessions, fights between riders on both horses and dragons against packs of gryphons, and threats from an ancient and mighty foe. With all this commotion there’s not enough time for leisurely character development, but the basic character arcs come through fine as Aliza learns to question her first assumptions and Daired learns to stop being such a snob. The world feels real and lived in, and did I mention that the dragons talk? And have opinions on matchmaking and social issues? I loved that!
So why am I not crazy about this book? For one thing, I had a hard time keeping track of the characters. There’s the usual Pride and Prejudice characters, but most have very different names and often very different trajectories. Then there are dragons, hobgoblins, and other creatures, many of which are distinct characters that must be kept straight. Then there are class distinctions. All you really need to know is that Daired is elite and Aliza is not, but I wanted to know more about the social structure and all these words (for instance: Tekari, Rangers, Riders, Shani, Nakla). All of these words are explained somewhere in the text, but the world is so interesting that I would have liked just a bit more of it.
Also, the book opens by introducing hobgoblins, a small but sentient species that lives in gardens. They are supposed to cute and maybe not too bright. Although Aliza refers to a hobgoblin as her “friend,” she’s also patronizing. Daired calls them vermin and kicks one. Even though he treats them with great respect later on, I could not get past his initial attitude. There is too much racism in the world for me to be amused by what amounts to the same thing in a fantasy context. It’s a very common trope in fantasy but it just drives me up the wall.
I did enjoy the way some of the more irritating characters from Pride and Prejudice are redeemed in this retelling. Aliza’s best friend marries an irritating, self-absorbed, pompous idiot – who turns out to be a truly loving husband and father. Charis, Daired’s mean friend (standing in for Catherine Bingley in the original novel) is mean for sure, but also a kickass warrior who truly cares about her family and about Daired. Best of all, no one makes fun of Mari, Aliza’s introverted and well-read sister who saves the day through scholarship.
This is a well-built fantasy with a well-written romance at its core. It does have flaws, but the writing is solid, the action exciting, and the dragons are amazing. The sequel, Dragonshadow, came out on November 20, 2018. Those of you who one-clicked at “Pride and Prejudice with dragons” will not be dissapointed!