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Caroline's Heart by Austin Chant
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, ownvoices, paranormal, transgender-rep

4.5 out of 5 stars

It's no secret that I love Austin Chant's writing, and the smooth, effortless way he weaves a story with a powerful sense of character, atmosphere, and enchantment. His writing is fluid, both weighty with meaning and delicate in word choice, craft, and construction. Chant has a tendency to take my expectations of a story and turn them on their heads, leaving me pleasantly surprised and longing for more. CAROLINE'S HEART is no different, making for a haunting, lovely, utterly satisfying read.
The heart knows its duty well. It hardly needs an invitation to begin beating.

Even if CAROLINE'S HEART arrived with the Halloween season and has an enchantingly haunting cover, it's less horror and more a pleasantly spooky paranormal with a "what if Salem were in Texas" vibe. In this well-paced novella, Roy is a cowboy with a secret: he's not quite like the other men. He was born male, but arrived at it by a slightly different path that others wouldn't understand or accept in that time period. So he keeps his own counsel, rarely speaks, and is immensely careful about how much of his body he allows others to see. It's an isolating existence, one that often leaves him withdrawing from others.

Until he meets the witch.

Cecily.

Cold and defensive, at first Cecily is annoyed by Roy's eager curiosity, unwilling to let anyone close for reasons both deeply personal and startlingly similar to Roy's. Yet Roy's own employer throws them together, giving Roy a chance to pursue his curiosity...until it leads to a catastrophe, and the only way to save his life is for Cecily to give up the most important thing to her in the world.



The reluctant -- at least on her part -- romance as Roy recovers is charming, and fraught with secrets of a heavy heart. Secrets both personal and supernatural; secrets both quiet and stunning. Secrets she's carried alone for far too long, and yet Roy is willing to help bear their weight if only she'll let him in, trust him, and give them both the opportunity to accept each other for who they truly are.
She looks straight at him, not in the forthright way that some people do, but like a cat watching an insect.

WHAT I LIKED

***Chant's writing is, as always, beautiful. He weaves a lyricism with his words that casts as much of a hypnotic spell as Cecily's magic.

***The take on magic and witchcraft in the worldbuilding was delightfully different, unique, and utterly entrancing. I loved how Cecily used her magic to create prosthetics that saved people's lives, even if (spoiler) (view spoiler).

***The entire concept of the story, this romance between a cowboy and a witch who creates enchanted prosthetic body parts, is so entirely fresh and new, and not even remotely what I was expecting when I picked up the novella.

***Roy as a trans character in a historical setting was written in such an engaging way. He's a wonderfully likable fellow with grit, heart, and honor, and I have to say his way of saying "Yes, ma'am" was swoonworthy and charming.

***Chant touches on the idea that we don't know we're different until someone tells us we're different. As children we only know that we exist, and we don't think of any of our traits or preferences as abnormal until someone tells us they are. We don't apply labels to ourselves. Others apply those labels to us, and then spend the rest of our lives walling us into their sometimes restrictive, sometimes comforting, always complicated boxes.
"I knew as soon as someone told me, which was when I was quite young."

***The story is at once heartwarming and heartwrenching, with believable, relatable emotions described with gentleness and empathy. It's definitely a story about loneliness and isolation, how both the secrets of who we are and open demonstration of our differences can ostracize us from society and leave us aching for even one person to understand; one person who can accept us for who we are.

***The sex scene involving trans characters didn't rely on genital essentialism to show intimacy between them, deftly handling describing it without delving into potentially clumsy or misgendering descriptions.



WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE

***In a few places the writing didn't flow smoothly, causing me to drift off from the story.

***There were a couple of spots where the passage of time wasn't wholly clear. Maybe that was intentional to show the effects of living in witch-time, but it raised enough questions and confusions to jar me out of the story.

***(HERE THERE BE SPOILERS, LOOK AWAY FAIR CHILD, LOOK AWAY) (view spoiler)

In the end this paranormal romance is a deeply human story about love, grief, and acceptance, told against a backdrop that carries the same breathless wonder as a dark fairy tale. It reminds me of the pure childlike delight I feel when watching something such as The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride, taking something that should be macabre and weaving it into the delicate framework of something beautiful and heartfelt.
The human body is a complexity of anchors and pulleys, but Cecily has devoted herself to understanding it, tailoring the tension and slack of each spell-thread until the prosthetic leg can bend and stretch gracefully.

Chant weaves a story that moves with a machinery as smooth as Cecily's prosthetics, resulting in a satisfying read that I would recommend for anyone who loves haunting romance.
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Reading Progress

October 28, 2017 – Started Reading
October 28, 2017 – Shelved
October 28, 2017 –
42.0% "Austin Chant never fails to delight with stories that turn my expectations on their heads."
October 28, 2017 –
99.0% "Haunting, lovely, and satisfying. Full review to come."
October 30, 2017 – Shelved as: favorites
October 30, 2017 – Shelved as: ownvoices
October 30, 2017 – Shelved as: paranormal
October 30, 2017 – Shelved as: transgender-rep
October 30, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by QuietlyKat (new) - added it

QuietlyKat Love your review <3 Great gifs too, they’re perfect!
You missed it: Texas, 1885.


message 2: by X (new) - rated it 5 stars

X ✚ Black Magic Reviews QuietlyKat wrote: "Love your review <3 Great gifs too, they’re perfect!
You missed it: Texas, 1885."


Thank you! I'm not surprised, of course I went brain-blank there. I'll delete that part from the review. :)


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