Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Series: Tales of Goldstone Wood #1
Genre: YA, fantasy
Published on July 1, 2010
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Read From: 4.23.13 - 4.27.13
Princess Una of Parumvir has come of age and will soon marry. She dreams of a charming prince, but when her first suitor arrives, he's not what she'd hoped. Prince Aethelbald, from the mysterious kingdom of Farthestshore, has traveled a great distance to prove his love - and also to bring hushed warnings of danger. A dragon is rumored to be on the hunt and blazing a path of terror.
Una, smitten with a more dashing prince, refuses Aethelbald's offer - and ignores his cautions with dire consequences. Soon the Dragon King himself is in Parumvir and Una, in giving her heart away unwisely, finds herself in his sights. Only those courageous enough to risk everything have a hope of fighting off this advancing evil.
Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Despite the character impersonator, I do like the cover. It's pretty and whimsical - and promises dragons! And I love stories with dragons.
Characters: I never was able to determine my opinion of Una. I feel like the Author couldn't quite decide herself what sort of character she wanted Una to be. Sassy? Brave? A romantic? Whimsical? Tough? Likable, annoying; good, bad? I am going to assume that the Author wanted Una to be a sympathetic character; a victim of circumstance, a romantic at heart, girlish and whimsical with her views on true love - but in the end sympathetic. While I didn't find Una irritating at any point, I can't exactly say that I ever sympathized with her; not exactly. I felt sorry for her at times, but mostly I too busy being disappointed over the fact that she was passive and foolish with giving her heart away. The passivity is what really saddened me, though. The few times that Una tries to put up a fight, she loses miserably, and then she spends the rest of her time lamenting how (she thinks) everyone has forgotten about her; that she's alone in the world, she's a monster, et cetera, et cetera. Yes, Una goes through a very trying time, but she ought to have dried her eyes and at least tried to bear up, rather than waiting for someone to come rescue her. I like damsels in distress who trying to do something about their circumstance, and if a nice guy happens to come along before she can rescue herself - great! At least she lives her days out in defiance, rather than rolling over to her oppressor. Una wasn't like this at all. That said, I did really like the other characters. Felix, Una's brother, is kind of pointless (okay, very pointless), but I still liked him - and more importantly, his and Una's close "siblinghood." Felix might not have done much in the story, except get injured and spend the majority of the time healing, but he had something about his character that I liked; a sense of honor and justice. I hated Lionheart as much as I loved Leonard the Jester (that is, a lot, and that's as it was supposed to be), and while Aethelbald wasn't in the story nearly as much as I would have liked, I adored him the moment he stepped into the story. He's quiet, reserved, gentle, honorable, and patient. I'm sad that the Author did not explore his character more, because he has so much in him. He could have been one of my ultimate favorite characters of all time. As it was, I saw his potential and loved the moments he was in the story, but I was disappointed that we couldn't get to know him better. As for the Dragon, he really wasn't all that terrifying. I honestly don't find that dragons make very good villains, because to me dragons will always be just giant lizards capable of flight. But when the Dragon was in his human form, he made a better bad guy, and was a little terrifying.
The Romance: I wouldn't exactly say that it was annoying, but I got a little tired of Una's flightiness. I never once could understand why Una took such a disliking toward Aethelbald. She claims that he tries to tell her what to do, and is constantly being too forward, but all Aethelbald does is show continuous care and concern for her. Her objections to him being of plain features and not possessing her imagine of romance (i.e. moonlit serenades, mushy poetry) reminded me so much of Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility that I wanted to, at times, hit my head against the wall. Her attachment to Prince Gervais was hinged entirely on frivolousness, and while I liked Leonard right along with her, their romance was very rushed. [Spoiler] Her continued attachment to him after he jilts her just frustrated me. [End spoiler]
Plot: At eighteen, Princess Una of Parumvir is now eligible for marriage, and she is eager for suitors. But on the eve of her coming of age, the mysterious Twelve-Year Market turns up after a five hundred year absence. Filled with strange wonders and even stranger people, Una and her brother Felix go and visit it to take in the exotic sights. There, Una meets Prince Aethelbald of Farthestshore, when he rescues her from a regrettable decision to have her fortune told. When Aethelbald declares his intention to court Una, she's furious and disappointed. But Aethelbald's inability to live up to her expectations is soon overshadowed by horrible, dark dreams filled with fire and pain - and the sinister voice of the Dragon, who has been looking for Una for a long time. And he has finally found her. At first, I was a little lost. Una goes through a (short) parade of suitors, which is peppered with a smattering of strange dreams that really don't make all that much sense. This is a story that suffered from too little detail. In trying to create this mystical-feeling allegory (more on the allegory part later), the Author failed to give enough background on characters and the world's history. For the first 150 pages, characters flit in and out quicker than an eye-blink, character motivation is hazy (why is the Dragon doing what he's doing? And seriously, the Duke is angry over an eighteen-year-old girl's slight?) and doesn't get a whole lot clearer as the story progresses, and Una has no motivation whatsoever. She just meanders through the story and victimized by bad circumstance after bad circumstance. When the character point of view changes, the plot stops some of its meandering . . . Until you realize that nothing horribly exciting is happening even in these parts.
Believability: Not applicable.
Writing Style: Other than Aethelbald, the writing style is what I really appreciated. It wasn't what I expecting at all. It was surprisingly good, with tons of genuinely pretty pros and beautiful descriptions. The Author might have failed to give background on her world's history, but she does have a truly enchanting world. The dialogue maintains an old feel to it, except when Una gets overly stressed and talks in stream-of-consciousness, which makes no sense when you read it. But other than those moments, the writing really did impress me. However, one big thing I failed to see what the allegory. I saw vague moments where I could kind of see where an allegory might be inserted, but it was very vague indeed.
Conclusion: I'm honestly not certain if I liked the end. It was kind of . . . convenient. I never really felt Una's love for Aethelbald grow. It was like one moment she was pining for Leonard, and then she suddenly realized that she's really loved Aethelbald the entire time. And then it turns out that Aethelbald could have killed the Dragon this entire time, but for some reason . . . didn't. This is where the "hidden" allegory crashes badly with the plot. If Aethelbald is supposed to be a representative of Christ, then obviously the Dragon is supposed to be Satan, and Aethelbald and the Dragon's "rivalry" (or whatever you want to call it) represents the fight of Good and Evil. And so one must assume that Aethelbald doesn't kill the Dragon as soon as possible because "it isn't the right time." Without getting into a long theological debate, the reason Christ can't do this and the reason Aethelbald can't do it aren't the same. "It isn't the right time" is not an acceptable excuse in a novel. [Spoiler] Una's death and "resurrection" was also rather disappointing and anticlimactic. What could have been a really sweet and romantic moment just kind of fell a little flat. [End spoiler] My overall opinion of Heartless is actually mixed. On the one hand, I loved the writing style and the world itself; Aethelbald was a really good character and the story's premise was excellent. But the plot meandered, Una was difficult to like (or even dislike), and it was just confusing at times. But as of this moment, I am smack in the middle of the second book, and it is a definite improvement.
Recommended Audience: Girl-read, any age, fans of fantasy that is more romantic and whimsical than fast-paced and exciting.
Others in the Tales of Goldstone Wood: