I had insomnia one night last week, and the one silver lining was that I got to finish The Master of Heathcrest Hall at four that morning. I’ve been working on this trilogy for both Once Upon a Time and my Finish-the-Series goal, and I’m so very glad I did–because I loved it.
If you like, you can jump back and read my reviews of the first two books, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent and The House on Durrow Street. To give very quick context: the trilogy is set in an alternate England (Altania), where some men are magicians, others can craft illusions, and certain women can speak to the Wyrdwood–Old Trees that are self-aware and capable of movement. Oh, and the day and the night are of uneven lengths, which fascinates me, and the whole writing style and society has a strong Austen feel.
The third installment brings us back to our three major characters. Ivy is living on Durrow Street with her two sisters and her beloved husband, Mr. Quent, and still trying to puzzle out messages left her by her father. Rafferdy has become fully involved in the Assembly, as well as a clandestine group of magicians, working to protect the Wyrdwood. Eldyn is performing as an illusionist, and learning how to make impressions (a kind of magical photo). All their lives are going along pretty well…but there are political rumblings, a revolutionary army on the march, and a red planet coming ever closer and bringing with it the Ashen, terrifying enemies set to destroy all life in their path.
All these bigger issues were largely in the background in the second book, which worked surprisingly well. I was hoping they would become more central in the third book and (eventually) they did. Beckett does very nicely gradually building up to the larger crises, while somehow never losing the feel of ordinary people who (mostly) are trying to go about ordinary lives.
I also hoped for more of Mr. Quent (he is, after all, the title character) but only partially got that. There was a bit of a facepalm moment when, at the very beginning of the book, we find out Mr. Quent is out of town. Again. As usual. He was perpetually out of town or working late in the second book. He actually does end up being in this one a bit more, and I just love it whenever he and Ivy are together. There’s such a Bronte feel to the two of them. Bronte actually gives us those sweet conversations Austen likes to skim past.
Mr. Quent also gave me the most heart-wrenching moment of the book…which I can’t explain without spoilers, though those who’ve read it probably know. It wasn’t actually when horrible things happened–it was when I realized horrible thing were going to happen, and how, and why. Sigh.
These books are all around 700 pages each, so by the end of the third, I had spent a lot of time with our three main characters. I loved how they grew and developed. Ivy was always wonderful, but she found new strengths and confidence over the course of the trilogy. There were a few moments in this book, however, when I felt like she did some really stupid things, which felt like they only happened to keep the plot moving. I tried not to get too irked, and the book and Ivy both did get back on track…
Eldyn had some interesting growth, as he always wanted to do great things but had to learn his own right path. Rafferdy grew the most, from a dandy with interest in nothing, to an honorable, caring man willing to sacrifice for a greater cause.
There’s a love triangle in here that I really liked, because it felt like a genuine conflict (though I guessed how it would ultimately resolve) while at the same time all three were so honorable, and respectful of everyone else involved. It struck me as such a contradiction to the (false) idea that you can’t write a book about genuinely good people.
As noted, this is a long book and, considering it’s written in an Austenish style, it’s not usually in much of a hurry. It works though–don’t expect fast paced action (except now and then) but there is a very satisfying slow unrolling of events and revealing of mysteries. Without getting into spoiler specifics, I’ll also mention that, in the end, everything ties up happily, in a way that’s almost too convenient. I know that bugs some people, so be aware…although personally, I like neatly happy endings.
I’ve been recommending this one to all of my friends who like Austen and fantasy. I think you really do have to like both, but if you do, this trilogy is one not to be missed!
Author’s Site: http://wyrdwood.net/
Buy it here: The Master of Heathcrest Hall