Sunday, August 15, 2010

Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

book cover

by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Trade Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: BethanyHouse
Released: July 2010

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher.

Book Description, my take:
Princess Una of Parumvir has turned 18 years old, and princes and nobles from neighboring kingdoms are coming to court her. The first prince, Aethelbald, arrives with a magical faerie market. Una resents his interference when he removes her from a situation she doesn't realize is dangerous, plus she finds him too practical. What she wants is a prince who will sing love songs about her beauty. The next prince to arrive does just that, but she's disappointed when reality still fails to match her romantic dreams.

Then Prince Aethelbald receives word that the Dragon who has been destroying Southlands is on the move. He warns the king that the Dragon is coming to make Una one of its own. Una's father dismisses the danger, so Prince Aethelbald leaves to deal with the Dragon as does another prince. But the Dragon still arrives, accompanying an invading army. He takes Una captive and chases her father and younger brother away. Can she, her family, or any of the princes save her from the Dragon before he breaks her to his will with lies?

Heartless is an enjoyable fantasy novel for young adults and adults (though teen boys probably won't find it quite as interesting since the teen girl gets more point-of-view time than her brother).

The world-building was excellent, skillfully immersing the reader in a unique and fantastical world without bogging the pace down with long descriptions or hard-to-pronounce names. The characters were engaging and complex. The princess and prince were occasionally arrogant, but overall they were admirable and brave.

Initially, the tension was created by wondering who Una would choose to marry, but I mainly kept reading because of the enjoyable humor woven into the story and the charming writing style. Then the story shifted into adventure mode where the tension was created by physical dangers but also by the question about whether or not the princess would chose to trust the right person. I had a hard time putting the book down once the adventure section began.

There was an underlying Christian allegory that I found very moving. The allegory wasn't overt, and I think the story would still be quite enjoyable and exciting even if the reader didn't realize the allegory--though they might think Prince Aethelbald's love for Una wasn't realistic (at least, for a human, so it's a good thing that he's not precisely human).

There was no sex or bad language (that we'd call bad language). Overall, I'd highly recommend this well-written novel as engaging, clean reading. I look forward to reading this author's future novels.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from the Prologue
Two children, a brother and a sister, played down by the Old Bridge nearly every day, weather permitting. None observing them would have guessed they were a prince and a princess. The boy, the younger of the two, was generally up to his elbows in mud due to his brave exploits as a frog catcher. His sister, though significantly more prim, was often barefoot and sported a few leaves and flowers stuck in her hair. She thought these romantic, but her nurse, when she brushed the princess's hair at night, called them "common," and said it with a distinct sniff.

This never stopped the princess, whose name was Una, from weaving daisies and wild violets and any other flower that fell under her hand into garlands and coronets, with which she festooned herself, thereby transforming from an ordinary princess--which was rather drab--into a Faerie Queen of great power and majesty. Felix, her brother, was never a Faerie. He, by dint of a few expert dabs of mud in the right places, made himself her gremlin guard instead and waged war against all her imaginary enemies.

Read chapter one.


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