Book Review: Heartstone

I’ve rarely heard a better premise than Pride and Prejudice retold with dragons.  So I guess it’s not that shocking that Heartstone by Elle Katharine White couldn’t quite live up to hopes.  I enjoyed it–someone else might love it–but I didn’t quite love the book as much as I loved the concept.

Heartstone centers around Aliza Bentaine and her sisters, living in a faux-England where magical creatures abound, some friendly, many not.  A band of Riders comes to their small village to fight the horde of gryphons plaguing the area, and among them are the charming Brysney, who swiftly falls for Aliza’s sister Anjey, and the arrogant Daired and his dragon.  And we all kind of know where this is going, right?

That knowing-where-it’s-going may be why I didn’t love this book as much as I hoped to.  Every character and most plot elements exist in a one-to-one relation to Austen’s original book.  There’s some fun in seeing how White re-imagined Austen’s plotline in this new, monster-ridden world…but it was never quite innovative enough to really capture me.  I mean, it is clever that Anjey gets swiped by a gryphon rather than catching a cold.  But it still seemed like we lost too much without gaining enough to compensate.

What we lost was Austen’s prose, and the pastoral peace of her world.  Yes, of course Lizzie Bennett is reasonably stressed about her future and her family’s crises, but to a modern reader Austen is still pretty calm and quiet and slow-moving.  We lose that, because, well, gryphons and dragons!  And White’s prose is absolutely fine and perfectly good, just…no one else is Austen.  (And I don’t even adore Austen the way some do–I’m a Charlotte Bronte person myself.)

What we got was dragons and hobgoblins and the like. The hobgoblins were actually adorable and I liked the way Mr. Dar–Daired’s interactions with them revealed Aliza’s changing understanding of his character.  The dragons were cool too, and I particularly liked Daired’s dragon Akarra’s attitude…but every story of riders bonded with dragons is sitting in Anne McCaffrey’s shadow and this wasn’t super exciting to me (although the variety of creatures Riders could bond with was an interesting element).

So after all this semi-grumbling, I actually quite liked the end of the story.  After Aliza gets to Pemberley–er, the ancestral home of the Daireds–the story finally starts to take its own shape.  There’s more heat between our lead characters (as we all know there was in the original, Austen is just too discreet!) plus the magic finally offers a major plot change, as an ancient monster awakens.  Aliza gets to go charging into danger to rescue Daired, as we all know Lizzie would have done given the opportunity.  And I love that this “Lizzie” got to do that.

It’s a pity this book didn’t really find its own identity until the last 80 pages (of 330).  Until then, it just doesn’t feel original enough, and I had a lot of trouble investing in it.  Though possibly I’ve just read too much Austen or too many dragon stories…  I feel like I can easily imagine someone else loving this book, even though I didn’t myself.  So take that mixed recommendation as you will, and use your own judgment!

Author’s Site:

Other reviews:
Nerd Girl Official
Speculative Herald
The Eater of Books
Anyone else?

Buy it here: Heartstone

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