Saturday, March 21, 2020

Heartstone & Saber

Jacqui Singleton
Completed 3/21/2020, Reviewed 3/21/2020
3 stars

Not a bad book, but certainly not great.  As I read this, I felt like this was a first novel, which I think it was, though I’m not positive.  It had a lot of good ideas and decent plot, but reading it felt a little choppy and uneven.  It took me quite a while to get into the characters, as it took a long time to flesh them out.  But by about halfway through, I found it entertaining.  The story has magic, war, pillaging, and a lesbian love triangle.  The female characters are strong and dominate the story.  It didn’t necessarily feel like any new ground was covered, but it the end, I found myself enjoying it.

Elayna is a young peasant woman and the Witch of Avoreed.  She has a lover, a brother, and a powerful amulet called the Heartstone.  When mercenaries come and pillage the town disguised as the Sentinel Army from the throne, Elayna’s lover dies and her house is burned down as is most of the town.  It leaves herself, her brother and most of the town homeless.  They are rounded up to be sold as slaves.  Cydell, the ruler, known as the Hya, is infuriated with the action.  She goes to the auction block and frees the captives.  However, she takes Elayna and her brother with her to the castle to provide them with food, shelter, and work until the village is rebuilt.  Elayna hates Cydell, assuming she’s responsible for sending the Sentinels.  Cydell can’t convince her otherwise.  She sends the brother to Sentinel training, which he does enthusiastically.  Elayna, she employs under her nurse.  Though full of hatred for each other, the two women must work together to overcome a terrible evil that is spreading over the land and trying to steal the Heartstone. 

The lesbian love triangle comes as a subplot.  Cydell has a lover who is the leader of the Sentinels.  Valkyra (which is a little too close to Valkyrie for me) loves Cydell, but Cydell never really returns her love.  They are passionate and are together often, but the relationship is very one way.  Enter Elanyna with her Heartstone.  The powerful magic of the Heartstone affects desires, which creates an attraction between Elayna and Cydell.  This causes conflict, of course, because of their initial hatred.  And it causes conflict between Cydell and Valkyra.  This was one of the more interesting parts of the book because this is where we get a real feel for the characters, especially Cydell.  We’re in her head a lot more than Elayna and Valkyra’s heads.  We get to see her as a fierce ruler she is and then see her evolve as she comes to love Elayna.  Elayna’s transformation isn’t as well developed.  She’s a headstrong young woman, very black and white.  So we don’t see her emotions change and grow quite like we do with Cydell.

The writing was what was really lacking for me.  It felt like something I would write.  Not much prose, not much warmth.  And there were infusions that didn’t seem necessary.  The best example of this was a chapter that opened describing how this was a distant planet in a system with two moons and very large continents.  I felt like I didn’t need to know this.  She already told us previously that there were two moons, so we knew this wasn’t earth.  Having to talk about it as a planet in a different solar system just felt like filler.  Also, the dialogue felt wooden.  There were several times when I thought it didn’t sound like how real people would talk.  Other times, it flowed just fine.  I think maybe a better editor might have been helpful in smoothing out the rough ones. 

One of the nice things about the book is that there is some comic relief.  This comes from the brother and his best friend in Sentinel training, as well as from Cydell’s cousin Kovi, who comes across as that brash gay uncle that makes everyone laugh.  It was nice to break up the seriousness of the story with these interludes. 

I give the book three stars out of five.  It’s not great, but it’s really not that bad.  There’s a sequel that was published about ten years later, which I probably won’t read, and seems harder to find.  As far as I can tell, Singleton only wrote three books.  But she was also a playwright, director, and singer-songwriter.  I didn’t find any real biography of her, except her obituary.  She died in 2014 at the age of 58. 

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