Book: “Heartstone” by Elle Katharine White
Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, January 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: the library!
Book Description: A debut historical fantasy that recasts Jane Austen’s beloved “Pride & Prejudice” in an imaginative world of wyverns, dragons, and the warriors who fight alongside them against the monsters that threaten the kingdom: gryphons, direwolves, lamias, banshees, and lindworms.
They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.
Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.
Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers . . . something far more sinister than gryphons.
Review: I keep doing it to myself, picking up books that are re-tellings of Jane Austen’s famous novels, always hoping and yet so often disappointed. But this, this, is why I do it! Every once in a blue moon an author gets it right, not feeling too beholden to the original, while also staying true to the themes and doing proper justice to the characters. I very much enjoyed “Hearstone,” both as a retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” and as an original work of fantasy fiction!
As the summary explains, only the barest of bones of the original story can be seen here. This is a different word with a different history and a different society. Fantastical beasts aren’t simply inserted into the Regency England we know from the original novels. And right off the bat this is a strength of the story. Jane Austen’s works are filled with female characters who in one way or another struggle with the limitations that dictate their lives. White does away with this aspect right away. Women not only populate this world equally, but they are active, functioning members of the world. There were many characters from the original who are gender-swapped, like Colonel Foster who becomes a female commander. This was a particularly interesting and freeing choice, I believe, as the story is laid out in a much more action-oriented manner, and White’s world allows all of her characters to play in it equally. Aliza and Anjey (the “Jane” sister) don’t simply get to know their to-be Rider beaus through balls and dancing, but by contributing to the cause to rid their land of monsters.
The story is also told from first person perspective, another change from the original. But Aliza is an entertaining and relatable leading lady. It is interesting watching her develop her opinions and prejudices from the perspective of her inner thoughts, something we don’t see from Elizabeth Bennet. Further, her change of heart as she learns the truth about Daired and grows to care for him is an interesting arc that feels news and fresh coming from this more introspective viewpoint. Daired himself is an appealing leading man. While there is no competing with Mr. Darcy, Daried’s own prejudices and points of pride make sense for the character. In some ways the fact that he manages to attach himself to Aliza based on very few interactions is both more understandable and less than Darcy’s affection for Elizabeth. The two spend more time together than Darcy/Elizabeth and in situations that would cause attachments to develop more quickly. However, as great as the Aliza is, as a character it is less obvious to see why she would stand out so much to Daired who runs into so many people throughout society. Elizabeth’s sparkly wit and uniqueness were always obvious. However, I very much enjoyed their romance, specifically the added action towards the end of the book.
As for secondary characters, it is interesting to see that White seems to have looked at Austen’s original supporting cast and essentially thought “Man, not everyone can be that obnoxious!” This, too, was a welcome change. Austen’s ability to write the ridiculous side of humanity and people is unparalleled. So rather than try to mimic it, White simply eased up on it altogether. The Mr. Collins character is still silly, but she makes him also a good man who ends up in a truly affectionate marriage. Mrs. Bentaine is still set on marrying off her daughters, but she’s also clearly a loving parent, and her insufferablness is very much cut back on. Even deplorable characters like Lady Catherine and Caroline Bingley are reformed, though still flawed. The Caroline Bingley character is a perfect example of both this more positive reimagining and the increased role that female characters play in the story, being a Rider herself alongside Daired and Brysney.
As for the world-building, I very much enjoyed how White built up her fantasy world around this classic story. Nothing felt forced, and she used the fantasy elements as motivations for the plot, not simply as window dressing to support a pre-determined system of events. All of the major plot points from the original story are inherently tied to the specific aspects of this new world.
This was one of the more enjoyable Jane Austen retellings that I can remember reading in quite a long time. If you enjoyed the originals, but also like high fantasy, I definitely recommend checking this one out!
“Heartstone” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “Best Jane Austen Retellings.”
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