Indie Review: Bring Me Their Hearts
If this is your first time here, please read this explanation of the philosophy and purpose of these reviews.
What it’s about
After a witch saves her life, Zera becomes a Heartless soldier, doomed to do her (actually pretty nice) witch’s bidding as long as the witch holds her heart in a jar. And this latest mission is a doozy: In order to prevent a war between witches and humans, Zera must go undercover and steal a prince’s heart. Literally. If she succeeds, she gets her own heart back; if she fails, the witches will disavow all knowledge and destroy Zera’s heart for good. Now, if only Zera weren’t falling for the prince she’s supposed to kill….
What rocked my socks
A sassy heroine: Zera is a gem of a snarky heroine. The way she defaults to sassy one-liners to deflect discomfort and fear feels really authentic (and it’s fun to read, too!). The author doesn’t shy away from making Zera unlikeable at times, either. It’s very clear that, whatever Zera’s conflicted emotions may be telling her, she’s still consciously manipulating the people around her, and that definitely comes back to bite her in the posterior. Even so, it was easy to root for her throughout the book.
A conflict of the heart: While Undercover Agent Falls For the Mark isn’t exactly a new trope, it’s done well here in a way that manages, for the most part, to make you feel less like you’re watching an impending train wreck and more like these characters are growing and changing as they orbit each other. And it’s not just Zera and Lucien. Zera’s relationships with her witch Nightsinger and her “aunt” Y’shennria, respectively, both have really interesting dynamics as well. (Side note: Can we please have more YA novels with deeply developed familial relationships between older and younger women??)
Getting a bit hungry: Zera’s Heartless nature is referred to as “the hunger,” represented by increasingly creepy-looking text that tells Zera to, er, eat the people around her. It also acts as a truly horrible inner voice that berates her for every mistake and reminds her that she’s worthless. And honestly, I kinda dig it. We all have that voice inside us (the one that makes us feel bad about ourselves, not the one that encourages us to eat our friends), so the fantasy version really struck a chord for me.
What didn’t rock my socks so much
Convenient lack of knowledge: The tough part of writing a smart character is that, if you’re not careful, you have to make them look really stupid in order to advance the plot. There are definitely moments when Zera shouldn’t have taken so long to understand what was going on around her. I’ll avoid spoilers, but essentially, she misreads multiple elements of Lucien’s character, as well as the Fione/Viora relationship. No one’s completely observant all the time, of course, but any genre-savvy reader will have several important plot points figured out long before Zera does.
Monologing to foxes: While Zera’s narrative voice is delightful, I don’t think we really needed her to verbalize backstory that could have been fit in more organically. Case in point: early on, she gives a speech to a fox about why she doesn’t hate Nightsinger, which is…awkward. This could have been shown in her interactions or internal monologue rather than having her literally talk to the scenery.
Time period?: While the tech in this world puts it someplace a little more modern than ye typical medieval fantasy world, there are still times when the modernity of the language feels a bit out of place. Zera refers to things like “familial lockdown” and “bogeys,” which seem at odds with carriages and kings. It took me a little out of the story here and there.
Yes, some of the mechanics of the storytelling got frustrating at times. But all in all, this novel is extremely fun and engaging. The tropes are right up my alley, and I was excited to learn there are two more books in the series. This one’s well worth a read for YA fantasy fans looking for lots of snark with a bit of angst and clever worldbuilding to back it up.
Get your copy of Bring Me Their Hearts here.
Writerly Takeaway Corner
- Tropes can get a bad rap, but they can also be a fab starting point for satire and playing with your readers’ expectations. You don’t have to aggressively subvert a trope to make it work, either; just bring your own unique voice to the table. Your readers may have an idea of how it’s all going to end, but they won’t know how you plan to get them there.
- Highly intelligent protagonists are delightful, but when you write one, be sure you’re taking into account believable ways to show they aren’t clever all the time. If you have to awkwardly maneuver them around a plot point they should’ve seen coming a mile away, it will distract from all that effort you exerted to convince the reader that this character Knows Their Stuff.
- A truly great character has both charming strengths and problematic flaws. You’re not likely to find a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to finding a balance between the two, but it’s worth considering what strengths you find most appealing (penchant for sassy one liners?) and what flaws you find most relatable (epic self-doubt?). Transfer the ones that speak to you into your characters.
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