Heartstone by Elle Katharine White
Heartstone was a book that I wanted as soon as I saw and read about it. Pride and Prejudice told from a world populated with wyverns, dragons and warriors. Why would you not want this book? After all, it is a truth, universally acknowledged, that all stories can be improved with the addition of a dragon!
So, when I say this is a retelling, I really do mean that it follows along very similar lines to Pride and Prejudice but with relevant twists to accommodate the different world. This is a very strong fantasy world, with no shortage of critters adorning the pages. As we open the story we are introduced to Aliza Bentaine, she’s in the garden conversing with a hobgoblin called Tobble when an unexpected Rider, astride his dragon, makes his grand entrance! As you can see, this is quite far from Ms Austen’s polite period drama – I’m sure no self respecting dragon would land in Ms Bennett’s garden without first being introduced! As introductions go I loved this one, the Rider is Daired – a rather handsome warrior from one of the upper crust families. Of course, he makes rather a poor impression on Aliza as he introduces himself in a rather contemptuous way and then proceeds to kick the hobgoblin across the garden – an action that rewards him with a mud fight with the rest of Tobble’s outraged clan. As you can see, Aliza and Daired make rather a poor first impression upon each other and yet that opening scene really did catch my attention and make me smile.
Anyway, to the main thrust of the story. Merybourne Manor is running amok with vicious gryphons and people are afraid to walk out. Riders have been hired to rid the county of the horde and Daired is the first to appear, shortly followed by the rest of his team including Master Brysney and his sister. It soon appears that Master Brysney has hired the nearby Lodge for his sister and friend Daired and of course everyone is anxious to make their acquaintance.
If you’ve read any Austen you will of course immediately recognise the above scene, and for that matter, plenty of the scenes that follow. Being a lover of Austen, and Pride and Prejudice in particular, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this but to my pleasant surprise I enjoyed it enormously. Whilst the plot follows many of the key scenes of P&P the author brings a new element to every one of them which isn’t surprising given the nature of the world here. She lends the book her own style, she doesn’t imitate Austen’s language or try to recreate that of the Regency period but brings a certain modern element to the story that I think readers will really enjoy. She reintroduces to us Lizzy and Darcy in the form of Aliza and Daired and she makes us fall in love with both of them as we watch them head butt their way along an inevitable path and on top of that she brings a very entertaining fantasy element that definitely adds the wow factor.
In terms of characters. We have all the usual characters, renamed, but quite easy to spot. Aliza is very easy to like and she carries the majority of the story really easily. Daired is the handsome and dashing warrior. You’d expect to be swooning over him but of course at first he’s incredibly arrogant and not a little boorish! The rest of the characters have all been given a slightly different injection of life which I found really refreshing to be honest, for example, the insufferable cousin is actually made likeable here (not perfect perhaps, but definitely likeable). I really liked that the author has given the characters slightly different character traits.
The world building is very easy to become accustomed to and manages to blend quite easily the Regency period whilst allowing the characters within to have slightly more freedom in terms of dress sense and behaviour that would need to be accommodated in a world like this. For example the girls wear trousers when they’re horse riding – seems sensible after all, but they still love to dress up for the ball. Girls can also become apprentices and can train to become warriors themselves. Again this brings a much more modern aspect to the story in spite of the period setting and is a little more relaxed in terms of the expected behaviour of the time.
The plot. Well, it starts off as a band of riders being hired to rid the county of Gryphons but it soon becomes apparent that a much bigger threat is looming on the horizon. A deadly foe that will have all the other nasty critters flocking to it’s cause and running wild across the countryside leaving death and destruction in it’s wake. I enjoyed the plot and the fast paced grand finale. More than that though I enjoyed the storyline between the main characters, in fact to be honest I think the plot could probably have been tamed down a little and I would have enjoyed it equally.
I haven’t really mentioned the dragons yet have I! My favourite was Akarra. The dragons here form a kind of bond with their rider. They choose each other and taken an oath and the absolute winning element for me was that that dragons talk – I loved that!
So, any criticisms from me. Not really. There were certain elements that felt a little bit clunky in terms of blending the period aspects with the rough and ready nature of dragons and warriors – for example, one particular scene which involves a dinner and two dragons also sat in the dining room eating their dinner at the same time. I definitely had raised eyebrows at that particular scene and it just didn’t really work for me. But that’s only one tiny little example. I could question why the author chose to retell P&P. She clearly has a strong idea for a world here, a period world filled with fantasy creatures so why not just create her own characters to go with it? Like I said above, I wondered if I would have mixed feelings about it but as it happened I really didn’t and to be honest I can’t blame Ms White for wanting to recreate this story with this setting, after all, these are characters that we already know and love so well. So, for me, I got the benefit of reading a new story, with familiar characters that I love, but in a fantasy setting (which I also love) and I just really enjoyed watching Aliza and Daired be ‘proud and prejudiced’ towards each other all over again.
I think this is a really good retelling. It benefits from having a great fantasy setting and I also think it will manage to attract readers who maybe haven’t read Austen by telling the story in a slightly more modern way.
A winning combination of fun, high fantasy and period drama with a wonderful and subtle romance that ties the story together. Would I recommend this – indeed I would and in fact I would go so far as to say I would enjoy reading more of Austen’s works told from a fantasy setting.
I received a copy through Edelweiss courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.