Vinaya's Reviews > Heartless

Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
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's review
Apr 30, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: bleh, could-have-been-better, maybe-when-i-m-desperate, ya-fantasy

I love fairy tales. I love their deceptive simplicity, the darkness at the heart of them, the violence that coils below the surface, the painted prettiness of the words. So when I see a book that has a fairy tale-style narrative, I get very excited. Sometimes, my hopes are justified, as with The Near Witch. Sometimes, they are horribly disappointed, as with Heartless.

This book took me three days to finish, and it wasn’t even all that long! I couldn’t justify DNF-ing it, because it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good enough to actually make me sit down and finish it in one go. It was, overall, meh. Which is a pity, because it had the sort of premise that makes me sit up and go begging like a puppy dog!

Princess Una and her brother Felix have spent their childhood playing make-believe games by Golding Wood, and living a life of tedious sameness. But all that changes when Una comes of age, and the Twelve Year Market pays a visit to Parumvir— after two hundred years. At their head is their Prince, Aethelbald, a quiet, non-descript man whose advantage of royalty is offset by his plainness and his lack of perceivable romance. Una takes an immediate dislike to her first suitor when he rescues her from an awkward situation, and makes no bones about her antipathy.

Soon Una begins to receive more ‘callers’ but there is something wrong with all of them; until she ends up giving her heart away to a prince disguised as a jester. In the meantime, Una is also plagued relentlessly by fire-dreams that fade away in the morning, leaving only the faintest traces of scars. The significance of her dreams do not dawn on Una until the day the Dragon comes... and then all lies in ruin around her — her family, her kingdom, her heart.

The book started off on a slow, but not-unpleasant note. It then slowed down further as the ponderous movements of the courting dance performed by Una’s suitors were described in detail. For some reason, the author was never able to fully infuse any element of excitement into the book. There are books that start off slowly and then pick up speed during the climax scenes. But Heartless continued to plod, without any heart, for the entire 300-odd pages.

Una was an annoyingly passive heroine. Actually, she reminded me of Katniss in Mockingjay, blown about by the whims of other people, and never standing up for herself. I was willing to cut Katniss some slack on account of the, you know, TWO HUNGER GAMES she’d just participated in, but Una was just plain wimpy. Sorry kid, gotta tell it like it is.

I understand what the author was trying to do with Una’s romance. She was trying to describe the fickleness of first love, the emphasis young girls put on physical appearance, and the heartbreak of trusting the wrong person. These are all important messages, and for sheer uniqueness in plotline, I give Stengl two stars. Unfortunately, the ideas did not translate effectively into words, and the story ended up becoming a mish-mash of uncoordinated incidents.

For example, Una’s Dragon dreams were meant to be prophetic and induce a sense of impending doom. Unfortunately, the foreshadowing was severely lacking in atmosphere, leaving the reader annoyed by these long dream passages that were completely unnecessary to the plotline.

Also, the characterization of Aethelbald lacked the magic and mystery of the Fae. The author lets us know that Aethelbald already knew of the fate that awaited his beloved, and yet, he made no move to protect her or her family from the impending danger. (view spoiler)

Most of the characters were too flat and two-dimensional to appeal. Una, who should have been the driving force of the story, lacked the passion to carry it off. All of the other characters were equally dull and forgettable, which leaves me with the question – what actually did happen in that 300-page book?! It’s like eating when you have a cold— you know the food has gone down your throat, and is filling your stomach, but without a sense of taste and smell, you don’t really feel as if you’ve eaten.

All in all, this is a book that wasn't very bad, but wasn't very good either. It falls squarely in the forgettable category, and that is sad, because it had a lot of potential, which it failed to live up to.
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Reading Progress

April 30, 2011 – Started Reading
April 30, 2011 – Shelved
May 2, 2011 –
0.0% "this book is throwing my entire reading schedule out of whack! It's not bad enough to DNF, but it's not good enough to hold my interest for long stretches of time either! aargh"
May 2, 2011 – Shelved as: bleh
May 2, 2011 – Shelved as: could-have-been-better
May 2, 2011 – Shelved as: maybe-when-i-m-desperate
May 2, 2011 – Shelved as: ya-fantasy
May 2, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by oliviasbooks (new)

oliviasbooks Thank you!

Vinaya Sure, but why? Did you read/plan to read this?

message 3: by oliviasbooks (new)

oliviasbooks I had it on my wishlist. Not anymore. Your tags are enlightening.

message 4: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Hartman My whippet is named Una, and that might prejudice me while reading this. I would picture the princess chasing squirrels and stealing food off the table.

message 5: by Chichipio (new)

Chichipio I hate it when "the good guys" don't kill whatever passes as the ultimate evil guy/creature in the story for no good reason until after it has killed countless people. What usually bothers me, though, is how no one calls them on that. On the contrary, they're praised as heroes. WTH? At least have one character, I'll settle for a minor one, asking them "why didn't you do that before?"

It reminds me of Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy. The MC was an assassin and for a really long time had access to the bad guy (his uncle) who was murdering whole cities but he wouldn't kill him because "he wasn't a common murderer to choose his victims, he was a royal assassin and only killed following royal orders." So… he had a problem breaking this honor code but wasn't much troubled by the death of thousands.

message 6: by Miriam (new)

Miriam A dragon and a princess named Una -- is this adapted from the St George story?

Jill The author gives nods to many great fantasy authors, including Spenser, Lewis, and Coleridge, but the story and characters are original.

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