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A sensational debut novel perfect for fans of Outlander and The Binding. This is gothic, epic, romantic fantasy at it’s very best; a tale of magic, intrigue on dangerous waters and a love story for the ages.

When Arden Beacon is sent to the lighthouse, she is simply a woman with a job to do. She neither seeks, nor expects, distraction. After years tainted by disappointment, Arden is finally taking up her family’s profession. She must prove herself worthy of her name, for she has nothing else.

But the coast she has been tasked with lighting is far from the world she knows – the salt-swept, backwater town of Vigil is battered by a sea teeming with colossal, ancient beasts. It is a place of secrets, rumours and tight-lipped expectations of a woman’s place.

More than anyone, the folk of Vigil whisper about Arden’s new neighbour, Jonah Riven, hunter of leviathans. He murdered his wife, they whisper – a perfect, golden girl, full of charm and potential. So very different to Arden Beacon.

They say he is as much a monster as his prey, but Arden cannot get this dark stranger out of her head.

A sensational debut novel perfect for fans of Outlander and The Binding. This is gothic, epic, romantic fantasy at it’s very best; a tale of magic, intrigue on dangerous waters

400 pages, Kindle Edition

First published April 2, 2020

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About the author

Claire McKenna

15 books62 followers
Claire McKenna is a SFF writer from Melbourne, Australia.

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5 stars
133 (14%)
4 stars
236 (25%)
3 stars
335 (36%)
2 stars
165 (17%)
1 star
53 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 216 reviews
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,710 reviews25k followers
October 15, 2019
Claire McKennna's fantasy debut is indisputably beautifully written but her storytelling did not fly for me. It felt incomprehensible and opaque, and the romance and love at the heart of the novel fails to convince. Arden Beacon arrives at the small coastal town, to be the lightkeeper where there is darkness, a place battered by dangerous seas infested with ancient sea beasts. She has blood tinged with magic, and she is drawn to a local man, Jonathan Riven, feared by people, rumoured to be a murderer and more. However, nothing is as it seems for hovering in the background is the strange and sinister Lion Order. The world building felt incomplete, and the romantic elements didn't feel right either. This novel did not appeal, it was hard work but perhaps it is simply that I am not really the reader for it, and others may enjoy it more. Many thanks to HarperCollins for an ARC.
Profile Image for KellyAnn.
201 reviews6 followers
July 18, 2022
I appear to be in the minority but I rather loved this gothic romantic historical-feel fantasy. There are lighthouses lit by magical flames, prehistoric sea creatures still populating the oceans, mysterious islands that aren't featured on any known maps and a secret eugenics society policing family bloodlines and magical aptitudes.

It had a lovely melancholic Bronte vibe going on, but I can see why it hasn't appealed to some. It is a little over-written in places, slightly flowery perhaps, although I don't usually mind that and soon got used to it (there are a few places where this jars somewhat, and the odd typo in my advanced proof copy). Nothing is info-dumped or made obvious either, there is world-building and hints of how the magic works, but it is subtly built in throughout the novel. Therein lies part of the problem I guess... a lot of the more recent fantasy novels (YA, adult and the cross-overs) are usually more accessible 'easy-reads' whereas 'Monstrous Heart' reminded me more of the older fantasy novels I read as a teenager, such as those by Tanith Lee, and the more literary Angela Carter and Ursula Le Guin.

I enjoyed how most of the characters were portrayed, and especially liked the female friendship between the main character Arden and her colleague Chalice, and I quite liked the brooding, albeit obvious, romance with the sea monster-hunting neighbour with a bad reputation. I wasn't particularly keen on the villains of the novel, they felt a little cliched and caricature like. There's also quite a lot left unresolved at the end, for some reason I was expecting more closure, and I hope I don't have to wait too long for a sequel...

(ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley)
Profile Image for charlotte,.
3,226 reviews872 followers
March 29, 2020
On my blog.

Rep: lesbian side character, gay side character, gay side character with cerebral palsy

CWs: sexual assault

Galley provided by publisher

This book had potential, but that is possibly the sole positive thing I can bring myself to say about it. The synopsis sounds promising but it ends up becoming yet another fantasy world replete with misogyny and rape culture.

It would be fair to say I knew this wasn’t the book for me within the first couple of pages, so I’ll get this point out of the way to start with. Me and the writing just didn’t get along. It wasn’t bad by any means. It just felt very purple-prosey and I don’t like that. So, at least some of the following points should be taken with that caveat.

I’ll start small and get bigger in this. The characters fell pretty flat for me. Possibly outside of Arden and Riven, everyone else could be summed up by single descriptors. I know they’re side characters and all, but some, especially the bad ones (*cough cough* Bellis *cough cough*) were almost caricatures in how one-dimensional they came out. Especially the aforementioned Bellis, who, we are told is cunning and manipulative, but… does not seem it when you meet her. Arden and Riven only really came out a little better because Arden was the main character, and Riven had the whole ooh they think he’s a monster storyline going on.

But the real kicker in this book is that somehow, somehow, in a world that seems closer to high than urban fantasy, there is still a hell of a lot of misogyny and rape culture. From the beginning, the Coastmaster is identified as a creep who cannot take no for an answer, and within about a quarter of the book, he has already sexually assaulted the protagonist. And that’s not all! It’s a constant stream of “women can’t do this” “women can’t do that”. Like if I wanted this, I’d read a fantasy written by a man. There is nothing revolutionary about a fantasy world featuring misogyny, especially when it doesn’t get pulled apart in any meaningful way. But it’s okay! There’s a scene near the end where a woman sexually assaults a man! Equal opportunity sexual assault here! (I’m being sarcastic…just in case you didn’t realise.)

And then to top it all off, this is a society that regularly practices in eugenics (there is a handily named Eugenics Society who make decisions on who you can marry!), and still no commentary on it.

So while there was potential to this book, it definitely did not meet it for me.
Profile Image for Bex (Beckie Bookworm).
2,015 reviews1,313 followers
April 13, 2020
DNF 20%
Well, this was a major disappointment.
I knew almost instantly that I wasn't going to gel with this book and its a shame as the blurb itself held such promise.
The writing here was full of flowery prose and just felt really pretentious like it was trying to showcase its higher intelligence but instead actually managed to turn me off so completely.
I read for enjoyment and sadly this was just too much like hard work, in fact, it was a complete and utter slog.
I didn't have a bloody clue what it was going on about half of the time and the world-building well there was none this just dropped you into the narrative and left you to drown.
There were no explanations for the world I found myself inhabiting, it was like I'd skipped half the book and was constantly playing some sort of catch-up.
I still gave this till the 20% mark before throwing in the towel but if I'm honest I wanted to stop reading this that much sooner.
In conclusion, this was overly wordy, confusing and far too pretentious for me.
I voluntary reviewed a copy of Monstrous Heart.

Reviewed By Beckie Bookworm
Profile Image for Emma.
2,507 reviews853 followers
April 12, 2020
I didn’t really understand what was going on with this story. The writing was very flowery but I didn’t really know what was being said! The world building was insufficient and the main character was annoying. The blurb for this book made the story sound very special but unfortunately this book wasn’t for me. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.
Profile Image for Aoife.
1,334 reviews584 followers
December 19, 2022
DNF 73%

Arden Beacon is a 27 year old woman in possession of a special kind of magic within her blood that means she is tasked with being a lightkeeper on a lonely island, keeping its inhabitants safe from monsters in the deep. As soon as Arden arrives in her new town, she is told terrifying tales of her new neighbour Jonah Riven who apparently forced his wife into marriage, and then killed her - and her body was never found. But Arden soon discovers there is a lot more to the story and to her silent neighbour then meets the eye.

I think this book had so much potential to be a really great fantasy story. There has obviously been a lot of thought put into the magic, and how it works and what it means for everyone in the town from genetics to bloodlines to socio-economics and politics. There was also the ripples of a great love story between Arden and Jonah - two people with magic buzzing in their veins and enough chemistry to make it sizzle between them.

However the story was lost between the meandering pace of the plot (or indeed whatever plot there was as I never quite figured out where we were going with this). I got to 73% and I swear hardly anything had happened and the bits that did were melodramatic and didn't feel like they actually added anything of substance.

I originally started this on audiobook and it was fine, and the narrator was decent - but when I started to struggle to care about the story I switched to my ebook version thinking this might help reinvest myself into the story and it was honestly worse., I very rarely DNF books, I normally give them till the very last page to convince me it was a good read but I couldn't do it here. I was just so bored and couldn't muster any enthusiasm to finish this so I had to put it down.
Profile Image for Gemma.
582 reviews134 followers
April 6, 2020
I don't know how to describe this book as it made no sense. From the first pages you are thrown into a fantasy world with its own creatures, governance, hierarchy, traditions and language and offered no explanation for how and why this world operates in the way it does. I have no problem with books that respect the intelligence of the reader and allows them to piece things together themselves but this book doesn't even give you enough information to do that. The plot had more holes in it than swiss cheese!
Not to mention that the main character of Arden is arrogant and unlikeable and the central romance is laughably contrived and cringeworthy.
The frustrating thing is that I believe the world of this book could be fascinating and perfect for a gothic fantasy story but the execution of the world building and plot was really poor. A very disappointing read but thank you to Harper Collins for the ARC.
Profile Image for Bethan.
118 reviews18 followers
October 16, 2019
Buckle up, nerds.

Ever wanted your Brontës with blood tithe magic, plesiosaurs, and sisters of sappho? LITERALLY LOOK NO FURTHER.

I first heard about this absolute arkenstone of a book at YALC 2019 and devoured the sampler in about 5 minutes. This was a fantasy world unlike anything I had read before. There were airships and automobiles that put me in mind of Philip Reeve's steampunk Mortal Engines quartet and the berserkers and motorball players of Alita: Battle Angel, yet its storm-wracked and primeval seascape was ruled by plesiosaurs, krakens, and leviathans suffused throughout with a bewitching magic system described as an "alchemical ouroboros" in which blood tithes counteracted the entropy of the elements.

Suffice it to say, it's fresh, it's fierce, and it will enchant fans of the likes of Tasha Suri, Jacqueline Carey, Diana Gabaldon, and Aliette de Bodard.

The curtain rises on Arden Beacon, the new lighthouse master of Vigil, as she's appointed to keep its perpetual coldfire lantern burning following the death of her uncle. But before she even sets foot on the island off the coast of Fiction lost somewhere in the heaving north Atlantic, she hears horrific rumours about a certain leviathan hunter who just happens to be her new neighbour.

Enter Jonah Riven *she says in parentheses*. He's been the talk of the town ever since the remains of his wife washed ashore with her iconic krakenskin coat and the whispers started to spread, spinning stories of how he had been slicing her slowly into bits to assuage the hunger of the legendary Deepwater King and the insatiable demons that seeped into the elements after the ancient war of the angels.

But as Arden learns more about the political nuances surrounding the guilds of Fiction, the notorious Eugenics Society that acts as matchmaker for all those with the hereditary blood magic of the sanguines, and the spycraft of the mysterious Lions of the nearby country of Lyonne, she realises all may not be as it seems...

Some more content info for ya... The tech and social norms draw on Victorian/Edwardian Britain but Arden and sapphic best friend Chalice are both badass broads who shake the shackles of these restraints in a manner reminiscent of Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri. There's discussion of and allusion to assault and abuse but the only on page occurrence is very quickly cut short when Arden yeets herself into the sea. There's still gender discrimination, influenced by the traditional seafaring roles determined by physical ability, but this is a world completely absent of homophobia/racism. It's not quite a secondary fantasy world as we get references to the likes of Vinland (what the Norse called America), Manhattan, and Lebanon, among others, and so the premise is that imperialism and colonialism weren't a thing because of the aforementioned dominion of the sea monsters. There's also still trafficking, but it's like the Vikings with the Celts rather than colonial slavery. And though the central romance is m/f, we get Arden's stormbride Chalice being a relentless legend, and a very sweet secondary m/m romance. The narrative focus is very much on the relationships of these seven or eight characters hence the classification as fantasy romance or romantic fantasy (see more recs here), and the writing itself is sumptuous and seething with sensory detail, reminding me very vividly of Jay Kristoff (also a HarperVoyager author).

In short, this book is basically Jane Eyre with airships and alchemy and oceans ruled by krakens and you should definitely let yourself be swept away by the manifold treasures within.

"The nights had been strange to her, aloft in the sea-facing tower while the clockwork motor ground out its constant refrain of escapement and arbour. The wild messenger pigeons in the dome, cousins to the ones Chalice kept in a roost behind the lighthouse to run the daily observations, cooed to each other in the darkness, an avian language, full of augury. The ocean breathed and retreated. Arden was held captive by such nights, overwhelmed with a physical hunger of missing – something."
Profile Image for Emily Lissek.
43 reviews3 followers
February 22, 2021
I was hoping to get an elder god/cthulhu sort of vibe from this story, but I found it to have more twilight like vibes. The heroine is portrayed as strong and independent woman with rare magical gifts. She is very headstrong and assertive until she falls in love with her mysterious neighbour. I found the story turned from that point, and changed her into a more 'damsel in distress' type. It took a while for any sort of action to start and the type of magic in this books isn't very clearly explained.

This is the first of a trilogy yet to be released. I would probably read the others just because I've taken the time to read this one, but I have no eagerness for their release.
Profile Image for Blue.
1,570 reviews86 followers
April 29, 2020
Want to see more...


Though I am not a fan of romance stories, this one was pretty good. The character's were really interesting and the plot was believable
April 21, 2020
Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Voyager for sending me this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
As per usual, a few content warnings to start: Attempted rape, sexual assault, discussion of rape, manipulative/abusive characters, some ableist language.
Mild Spoilers Ahead

This book was...something. From the premise, it sounded intriguing and exciting. It was likened to The Binding and described as a gothic love story, all of which I loved the sound of. However, I felt this story fell flat.

I'll start off with the positives: there are gay side characters and disabled rep through a character with Cerebral Palsy. Chalice was a fantastic character who was funny, genuinely caring, and brought some light into this story.

As much as I enjoy stories that jump into the action, there is no world building or context during the opening few chapters, which is jarring and makes it difficult to engage with this book. There are no real explanations of the magic and abilities within the world either, making it seem like a lot of it was made up on the spot to suit the plot. There seems to be completely random types of power/magic which are mentioned, but never explained or explored. They are largely described in Latin, so if you don't understand the language, you probably won't get an explanation for what that power does. It is frustrating and seems like a pointless way to make them sound elite and powerful. The magic is seemingly rare, but characters with two separate abilities are apparently prevalent enough for three of them to be in one small town? Riiight...

I had a hard time immersing myself in the world due to several confusions in the plot. The use of mythical creatures alongside extinct (in our world) creatures made it feel like the world-building was thrown together without any form of explanation for how these creatures exist. Time and time again, things from this reality are mentioned which ripped me out of the story - either set it in our world, or don't. Using place names like Manhattan as well as Fiction (Fiction...as a place name. Can we just appreciate how lazy that is?), and referencing 'the Owl and the Pussycat' didn't work for me at all. The technological advances were very confusing and made it difficult to really imagine Fiction as a place; Mr Justinian owns a car, but there is talk of electricity like it's new and modern, whilst Mr. Riven has a type of sonar device on his boat?! There is mention of religion, god and an 'old religion', but again, this is never truly expanded upon or explained enough to make much sense. I think the author would have benefitted hugely from planning out the world before trying to write this story, as it would have made it more cohesive and easier to understand as a whole.

Another issue I found was the constant repetition of Mr Riven being a violent character. Purely from the blurb, you know there is more to him than meets the eye, so the continuous reminder took me out of the story and annoyed me quite a lot. It also feels like when he is revealed to be innocent, the shock is completely taken away through the over-emphasis. It feels totally unsurprising. He is then described as gentle which had the exact same effect. Show me through description and action, don't tell me 1,000 times!

This world is very misogynistic, so I was hoping for a powerful character arc for Arden, but no real change happened. A majority of the men are incredibly dismissive and hold her qualification over her, despite her standing in society being incredibly high. It seems like a world which is unnecessarily negative for women, where they are demeaned regularly. The only positions you hear of women having are working in a brothel, a stall owner and a wife. Even Arden is not immune to this, and the idea of her marital status is discussed so frequently that it is practically a secondary character. This misogyny is also paired fantastically with a hefty dose of classism. Arden is supposedly higher class because of her powers, but is still treated like dirt by several characters who receive zero punishment by the end of the book. The people of Fiction are spoken about awfully a large amount of the time by Mr Justinian (are you getting the sense that he's not a nice guy? Good.), but they are shown to be a kind, if not superstitious, group on the whole. The Eugenics Society (yep, you read that correctly.), which seems to run the world they live in, is constantly spoken about, and their 'Lions' seem to be ever-present and always watching. During the book, they are spoken about with fear, but very rarely actually demonstrate their power. When they do, it seems incredibly lacklustre and like every typical Big Bad. The Society itself has major issues, starting with the entire idea of a Eugenics Society. It is exactly what is says on the tin and I find this an incredibly disturbing prospect, even within fiction. This needed to be shown as an incredibly awful prospect that was refuted by characters, not just spoken about in a nonchalant manner of 'it is how it is'.

From early on in the book, you see there is a distinct rape culture present in this society. When Arden arrives on Fiction, she is told by members of the town about the vicious Mr Riven and his wife who was raped and killed by him. The townspeople seem to relish at the idea of another woman being close to him once they realise that Arden will be living in the lighthouse near his land. It is incredibly disturbing to read and I felt very uncomfortable. Mr Justinian is another suspect character who acts as if he owns Arden. He is manipulative and possessive, using his sway as Coastmaster to get his way.  Arden's attempted rape and sexual assault still does not allow for her to get any distance from him, but instead she has to stay in contact. There is no closure for her and no punishment for Mr Justinian during this story and it felt disgusting and wrong to have to read a story with this unsatisfying conclusion during the current climate of the #MeToo movement. If I didn't have to read this book for the review, I would have DNFed due to this. It is disheartening that the author didn't use this as an opportunity to utilise the Lions as a way to punish him for harming someone as powerful as Arden, or let her get her own revenge on him in some way.

I'm aware that this is an ARC, but the amount of errors that should have been spotted made it very difficult to engage with the story properly. Arden is referred to as Andrew so much in the first few chapters, that I originally thought it was a new character being introduced!

I'm bored of the 'Mysterious, brooding man with a dark past can only be helped by a young, innocent girl who has no idea what's going on' trope. It's overused and makes it seem like the only purpose for a woman in a story is to be a stepping stone for a man's redemption arc, even when he isn't the protagonist. Arden is treated like a pawn in this book, both by other characters and by the author.
The chemistry between Arden and Mr Riven is unconvincing, so the entire plot twist in the second half of the book had little impact, and the danger did not build up enough to warrant me caring about the outcome. The romance felt forced to try and give an extra edge to the twist, but it didn't work at all. The sex scenes felt like they were thrown in for some attempt at rescuing the relationship and proving that it's real, but instead makes Arden's actions questionable as we are frequently told of Mr Riven's love for his wife. However, Mr Riven also declares that he has feelings for Arden and wants to run away with her. It seems like a big mess of half-baked feelings that no one is convinced by. I wish that authors didn't feel the need to force a relationship into a fantasy story. They work without the romance! Frankly, the chemistry between Arden and Chalice should have been explored more if a relationship had to be present because I had fun reading their scenes together! I felt that the entire later third of the book was rushed and didn't have any sort of convincing ending.  I didn't feel like any plot points were wrapped up, so the ending was lacklustre and weak. I assume it is being left open for a sequel, but I just don't care enough about any of the characters to want to read it.

It is concerning and disturbing that, even in a fantastical setting, the author cannot even entertain the idea that a woman is more than an object or a piece in a game for men to use and abuse as they like, regardless of class or ability. This story could have been an empowering and interesting piece of fiction, but instead dredges up the worst of our current society, mixed with mythical creatures to add some interest. The ending of this book is a weak attempt to give power back to Arden, but still doesn't have the impact it should have.

Overall, I gave this book 1 star. The initial idea is fantastic and should have worked, if the world was thoroughly built. As it wasn't, the story was patchy and not enjoyable, not to mention the rampant rape culture.
Profile Image for Jess.
Author 5 books90 followers
April 17, 2020
*I received an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Harper Collins UK and NetGalley*

Tending to lighthouses runs in Arden Beacon's family because of the family gift. With her own power a weak one, Arden isn't planning on staying at the lighthouse in the small seaside town of Vigil for long.
Life in Vigil is very different to what Arden is used to - the sea is home to gigantic sea monsters and the town is full of secrets and whispers of Arden's new neighbour, who supposedly murdered his own wife.
Can Arden survive in Vigil?
Is Arden's neighbour as monstrous as everyone claims he is?

Monstrous Heart first came to my attention at YALC, a young adult convention, but it is most certainly not a young adult book as the main character is in her late twenties and there are some graphic scenes.
The world of Monstrous Heart was an interesting one - the powers were intriguing and I liked the idea of there being sea creatures such as kraken. The bloodlines/powers being controlled by an organisation was a bit scary, and I thought it was awful that they could decide whether or not you were allowed to marry someone.
Arden was a mixed protagonist for me, as there were times when I liked and felt sorry for her, and times when I didn't care what happened to her. I actually preferred Chalice, Arden's 'stormbride' (lighthouse assistant), to Arden herself.
The romance was not one of my favourites as I didn't feel the connection between them. It just felt like they were both lonely to me.
The plot was quite slow going at times and not much actually happened. I found the first half more interesting, and my attention did wander more than once throughout the second half of the book. There were a couple of twists that I didn't see coming, but they didn't have the impact they should have because I wasn't invested in what was happening.
For me, the writing style was the main reason I struggled with the book - I found it hard to get into and hard to connect with the characters and storyline because of that.
I feel like Monstrous Heart didn't reach its potential for me, and I'm disappointed that I didn't enjoy it more.

Overall, this was an okay read.
Profile Image for Judith Huang.
Author 18 books48 followers
August 10, 2020
Don't usually read romance at all, and maybe that's why I particularly enjoyed this one.
I loved the brooding atmosphere of the world and especially the sea creatures, sea battles, pirates and that the fantasy was not-quite-high-fantasy. The romance was beat by beat (except the end) and pretty predictable but I still liked it and kept reading. I actually really loved Arden, the MC and Riven, her love interest, as characters. Riven definitely seemed like a mash up of Mr Rochester and Heathcliff. In some respects this felt like fan fiction for the Gothic authors with some fantasy elements thrown in. Agreed with other reviewers that all the secondary characters except Chalice were really forgettable and interchangeable.
There were some aspects of the worldbuilding that were confusing, and the final third felt a bit rushed through and threads-put-off-to-resolve-in-a-trilogy. I really wish the author had resolved it all in one book, as that would have been perfect!
But, somehow this book scratched an itch for me I never knew I had because I LOVE sea-side settings, mysterious sea creatures, ships clashing on the high seas and dark romance as a combination, apparently.

Also, WHAT A COVER! It really captured the atmosphere of the book, so, kudos, cover artist!
November 6, 2019
I was really looking forward to this but unfortunately it fell flat despite some great writing, there wasn’t a great deal of world building and what there was didn’t work well. The characters were not well developed and felt one dimensional. I’m disappointed as I was hoping for so much more, the story was interesting and the writing style lovely but it was let down with the rest.

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a free copy for an honest opinion
Profile Image for Caitlin.
131 reviews48 followers
June 26, 2021
I am nothing short of OBSESSED. REVIEW COMING SOON
Profile Image for Becca (Horners_book_corner).
181 reviews32 followers
May 8, 2022
I'm not sure why I hadn't come across this book before, but I really enjoyed it and will be diving straight into the sequel, Deepwater King next!
Profile Image for Janna G. Noelle.
202 reviews31 followers
May 2, 2020
Arden Beacon, from the city of Clay Portside, Lyonne, is a sanguis ignis—a practitioner of blood magic whose power involves creating fire light that's used to illuminate lighthouses. Despite coming from a long, illustrious lineage of similarly gifted Beacons, her powers are quite weak. This has prevented both her membership to the Seamaster's Guild and her ability to get married since the sanguine genealogies are strictly controlled by the Lyonnian Order's Eugenics Society. This is to ensure the breeding of strong, favourable sanguine abilities and the purging of undesirable ones, as well as to maintain general dominance over all wielders of magic.

An unexpected offer from the Order to operate the lighthouse in Fiction at the port of Vigil along the Darkling Sea seems like the answer to all of Arden's problems: she'll serve there for the last few months of the lighthouse's lifespan before its replaced with an electric signal, she’ll earn the guild membership long denied her, and then she’ll return home and be able to resurrect a romance previously ended on account of the Eugenics Society. But even though Vigil is a town that keeps to itself, it’s not nearly as far removed from the intrigue of the big city as it might think. And despite sending Arden there ostensibly to help her, the Lyonnian Order isn’t known for its charity.

I really loved this book. The concept was fascinating and as a gothic, maritime fantasy novel, it dripped with atmosphere. Vigil is a crumbling fishing village with its lighthouse perched along a windswept promontory overlooking the stormy sea. Mythical sea monsters like plesiosaurs and kraken wander the deeps while the salty air whispers the ancient lore of an underwater king served by drowned sailors and worshipped by offshore oilmen on a nearby chain of rugged island. The worldbuilding is so inventive, comprising a reimagined North America where European colonization as we know it did not occur, and where the sanguis, with their ability to replace manual labour with magic, are largely disliked, distrusted, and viewed as an existential threat to working people—a tension that mimics our modern-day increases in technologization and proliferation of artificial intelligence in the workforce.

The economy of Fiction thrives on the hunting of kraken, whose products are used for everything from meat to medicine, from perfume to leather to high octane fuel. Yet hunting them requires sanguis abilities as well, and is a waning talent, with only person left in Vigil possessing this special magic in his blood.

As a Maritimer myself who grew up in region the book fictitiously portrays, the rustic, gossipy, judgemental people of Vigil felt very true to life. Upon arriving, Arden is immediately informed in lurid and gleeful detail by more than one person about how Jonah Riven, her sole neighbour on the lighthouse promontory, and the town's sole kraken hunter who’s said to be no less monstrous himself, supposedly murdered his wife, her body having washed up on shore in a krakenskin coat. But various elements of the story don't add up, and as Arden repeatedly finds herself in her elusive neighbour's path—first by chance and then through her own insistent curiosity and wistful loneliness and longing—she learns that the true monster isn't at all whom anyone expected. And that the true reason she was sent to Vigil is something rather different than what she was told.

Despite her deep longing to prove herself worthy of her family's ancestral talents, Arden is a strong-willed and mature female character. She can hold her own in against unwanted sexual advances from the Vigil's pretentious nobleman Coastmaster; amidst bantering with her non-nonsense lighthouse assistant, Chalice; within the male-dominated port signalling industry in general; and in pursuit of a relationship with the man who can raise monsters from the sea by the power of his blood.

This book is a gem and I'm so pleased there will be two more in the series because the story is far from over and I want more!
Profile Image for Charlene ✿.
382 reviews91 followers
April 19, 2021

2.5 stars  



Where to start. I randomly found this book at my library and was compelled to pick it up. The synopsis inspired me to imagine a story about a misunderstood, ostracised man who falls in love with the new girl who shows him kindness and light in his life. A dynamic similar to the Emilia Clarke movie Me Before You where the female protagonists hope and joy that breathes new life to the town and the love interest. This was very much not that. 


The writing was weird, and often confused me. Overwritten at places that left me confused on what it was describing. I hate the chapter headings. The chapter headings are the first few words of the first sentence in the chapter. If the chapter started with funny or dramatic first sentences then I would have loved it. There was nothing enticing about the first sentences of each chapter so there was no need for chapter titles that were a partial of the first sentence. 

The romance felt tragic from the beginning. Their love would always have ghosts that seperate them, and the pressures of society they are beholden too. I fully went into this book thinking it was a standalone novel with a self-contained story of love, loss and a sad isolating location. Jonah and Arden love story felt doomed which is depressing to read.

Another weird part of the book is the eugenics society. 
Truly I have no words.


Anyways speed run of things I liked
- Lighthouses. I want one. Imagine living in one. What a dream
- Jonah has a dog and he was such a good boy!
- gothic vibes 
- David
- Pirate vibes
- Small town mystery

Speedrun of things I wasn't partial too
- steampunk vibes
- rape culture vibes
- I couldn't tell you how the government system worked or why Lion society was a secret not secret society that loved eugenics so much
- Chalice 
- Jorden like blaming Arden for him falling in love with her. Dude. Own up to your feelings. 
- Bellis 

I gotta go eat some chocolate now to align my chakras.
I won't be continuing with the series.


TW: mentions of sexual assault, abuse (torture, physical, mental, emotional, verbal, sexual), needles, death, disregard for personal autonomy, blood.

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Profile Image for Lisa.
96 reviews8 followers
July 4, 2021
Fantasy isn’t my go-to genre but I was intrigued by the idea of a gothic, fantasy tale of romance and sea monsters. This was a good step out of my comfort zone.

In Monstrous Heart, we meet Arden Beacon, a woman from a respected family with a bloodline that has a talent for ignis sanguis, (creating fire with a blood sacrifice). Although her power is weak, she is finally given a commission as a lighthouse keeper on an isolated promontory, far from her civilised city home.

When she arrives, she is warned by everyone she meets about her monster of a neighbour, Jonah Riven, who has spent half his life on a prison hulk for the murder of his entire family. Apparently, on his return he forced a woman into a Deepwater marriage, before offering her as a blood sacrifice to the Deepwater King.

Can the man really be this monstrous? After her first few meetings she begins to suspect otherwise. How might their destinies become entwined? Was it really coincidence that brought them together? What part might the shadowy organisation known as The Lions be playing in their story?

The world of this trilogy is perfect for fans of steampunk fantasy. It’s full of industry and magic, of Old Gods and ancient rites. The vaguely Victorian feel to the characters and the society they inhabit, is reflected in the ornate writing style; it reads like a 19th Century novel with some anachronistic sex scenes thrown in.

There are some dark themes at play too. Not only is industry powered by blood letting but even body parts and sex are used as sacrifices to the Old Gods. There’s also the Eugenics Society, concerned with protecting useful blood talents and keeping out dangerous shadow abilities.

Monstrous Heart is a page turner from the start. I was drawn in by the unlikely romance, the determined heroine and the brooding and misunderstood hero. There’s a good dose of suspense in the cloak and dagger motives of many characters that kept me captivated until the end.

Definitely a must read for fans of the genre.

Thank you to Harper Collins for a gifted copy in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Clare.
1,087 reviews7 followers
June 12, 2020
This is a beautifully told story that built a really interesting, new world with fantastical creatures and blood magic. I did feel a bit lost for about the first half of the book, as I worked out how things worked in this new society. Ordinarily, this wouldn't have bothered me, but so much depends on the way in which this society functions - the expectations of those with magic in their blood, and the restrictions that these expectations bring. I persevered and I'm glad that I did, because once the action gets going and things become clearer, it was actually a good read. It's a book that requires a fair bit of work, and I don't know as there's many readers who would commit that time. This book promises so much, but I think that it fails to deliver.
It appears to be left open for a follow up, but I don't think I will be reading it.
Profile Image for Mridula Gupta.
669 reviews176 followers
December 22, 2019
Why do pretty books have to turn out to be so disappointing? A premise I loved and expected so much from. Arden takes up the job of a lightkeeper in a town troubled by monsters. She meets Jonathan Riven, a man hated by the world and branded as a murderer and chemistry builds between them. In a world plagued by sea monsters, these two love birds have mysteries to unravel and secrets to discover, eventually leading them to Lion Order.

The book fell flat in a lot of aspects for me. The romance felt half baked, the world-building was neither exciting nor unique, the antagonist angle wasn't executed well either. I was confused throughout the book about the chain of events and nothing seemed to get better. This book left me exhausted.
Profile Image for Kat.
1,054 reviews3 followers
January 8, 2020
I am so disappointed as I really wanted to like this book so much more than I did. The writing was stunning but the story just did not capture me and I found it difficult to connect with the characters and felt my attention drifting throughout the book.
The premise of the story seemed so promising and I was excited to receive the ARC but it just didn’t live up to what I was hoping for but perhaps that’s just me.
I did finish the book even though at times I almost gave up on it I hope others will enjoy it more than I did and I think it deserves 3 stars for the writing but sadly it just wasn’t for me.
My thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins UK, Harper Voyager for giving me the chance to read the ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
Profile Image for Gabriela.
260 reviews82 followers
March 8, 2022
I had pretty low expectations seeing top 3 reviews being 1-2 stars but I thought this was very solid.

The writing immediately sucked me in, but I do love some gold old purpose prose. I thought the world was quite visceral and the atmosphere was well set. I could’ve done without the extremely creepy SA but oh well.

My one complaint would be the very slow pace. It felt like the actual plot only kicked off at the 50% mark. Nothing much happened in the first half, we were just *chilling*.
Profile Image for Lucy.
586 reviews8 followers
May 27, 2020
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC.

It took me quite a while to get into this book. I found the writing style quite cumbersome in places and the characters were a bit underdeveloped. However, the narrative (once it got going) is very unique and I didn't see some of the twists coming. An interesting start to what I assume will be a series.
Profile Image for Victoria.
954 reviews8 followers
May 10, 2020
i read this on the recommendation of a friend who works in a book store and I'm glad I did

It was wild, funny, sad, tragic, raunchy so many different things. It was an amazing new magic system a harsh world where survival is not easy especially for women. It was just great
Profile Image for Frederique.
237 reviews33 followers
October 31, 2020
I think this could have been a great story, as I like the setting, the sea creatures and the magic, but the way this is written was just not for me. Also the chapter titles repeating the first sentence just annoyed me. Not sure if I'm going to read the sequel.
Profile Image for Surbhi Das.
485 reviews44 followers
June 5, 2020
I had to have this book after reading the blurb which said "this was perfect for the fans of Outlander". However, I was massively let down by this book. Cutting to the chase, this was incomprehensible. I didn't have any idea what was going on and it didn't help that I couldn't connect with any of the characters. The writing was beautiful at times but like I said, what good is a beautiful writing if the story doesn't make sense??

ARC received via Netgalley, in exchange of my honest opinion!
Profile Image for Annabel.
812 reviews18 followers
April 9, 2020
A full review coming soon but this book was everything I wanted in a book!! I loved it!!
Profile Image for Steph Warren.
1,347 reviews25 followers
May 6, 2020
*I received a free ARC of this novel, with thanks to the author, Harper Collins UK and NetGalley. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

I wanted to love this book, so much. I adored Deeplight (Frances Hardinge) and looking at the cover and blurb – pirates! sea monsters! – I had high hopes for a similarly immersive tale. Unfortunately, I found it virtually impossible to fall in love with Monstrous Heart… I don’t feel we got past the first date.

The main issue was with the lack of coherent worldbuilding. There are references to old technology, but also more recent inventions; real-life historical references crop up, in a world that also has kraken-skin clothing and a place named Fiction. There is a ‘Guild’ and a Eugenics Society, and an enforcement arm called ‘The Lions’, but I wasn’t clear on the powers, function or purpose of any of them, and they often seemed to overlap in ways I didn’t understand.

The magic system is equally difficult to grasp. It clearly all revolves around blood, blood testing and blood letting, but it is never explained what powers are possible or how they work. There are main powers – which can be weak – and secondary, or ‘Shadow’ talents, which can be stronger, and the Eugenics Society breeds, sterilises and even kills people based on their power classifications… in some unexplained system. Arden has weak talent for some form of incendiary magic (judging by the Latin) and therefore is a stain on her family status, but still has power and status by dint of her blood, yet people treat her contemptuously for that same magical blood. So are magic users powerful and revered, or exiled from polite society? I’m still not sure.

Arden is the main character, and her motivations at many points are unfathomable to me. She is grieving for her parting from the man she planned to run away with, and desperate to ascend in her career in order to return to him, so much so that she will allow herself to be blackmailed into morally dubious actions to achieve her goal. Until she meets Riven – a man who she is told is a violent, abusive monster – and decides to like him, apparently out of sheer contrariness. Then, when he turns out to be more bark than bite, she immediately falls panting into his arms. Meanwhile his sole motivation for anything is apparently his pure love for his dead, abused wife, but he quickly reciprocates Arden’s fickle ardour. It doesn’t give me much hope for the longevity of their relationship!

I did fully enjoy the side-character of Chalice. I found her well-developed and interesting, and honestly would rather have followed her story for a large portion of the book. Unlike the other women we meet, Chalice has sexual and career agency, and tons of personality. Most of the other female characters seem to be there to be raped or married, depending on their status. Yes, trigger warning here, there is quite a lot of rape, sexual assault, slut shaming and general misogyny throughout the world of the story. It seems to be just part of how things are there… like the Eugenics Society, which is exactly what it sounds like and remains pretty much uncommented on.

The real shame here is that the plot and world ideas really are good, and Chalice proves that the characters can be too. Likewise, the writing is skilful, if a little dense and flowery. It takes some time for the action to get going, and for the reader to pick up the basics of what is going on, but once the plot was properly established and underway I began to get into things.

Then, towards the end of the book, just as things began to become really interesting and action-packed in Arden’s adventure I realised I was running out of pages. Sure enough, the book ends on a cliffhanger, with none of the main plot points resolved, to tease the reader into following Arden into a (previously unmentioned) sequel. I think I’ll sit that one out on land.

“I am Arden Beacon. Lightmistress, Associate Guildswoman and Ignis Sanguine from Clay Portside, the trader’s city of Lyonne.” Arden recited, still unfamiliar with her official titles. She held out her gloved hand. “I have come from Clay Portside in Lyonne to take over the lighthouse operation from my late uncle, Jorgen Beacon.”
“A sanguinem?” The woman frowned at the offered hand.
“It’s all right,” Arden said. “Touch doesn’t hurt me.”
Still cautious, the woman shook Arden’s hand timidly, her eyes still on the pony-plantskin gloves, so fine compared to the ubiquitous bonefish leather of the coast. Was not the gloves she minded, but what lay under the gloves that gave the woman pause.

– Claire McKenna, Monstrous Heart

Review by Steph Warren of Bookshine and Readbows blog
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