Heart Blade by Juliana Spink-Mills

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
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This is the review of a YA Urban Fantasy by someone who doesn't really want YA. Or that much Urban Fantasy either. As such, I am somewhat unsure about this description, but Heart Blade seems to be very archetypal of both.

It is the tale of a half-demon named Del. In Heart Blade's universe, half-demons have some pretty heavy amnesia about their life before becoming a demon, and only truly come into their heritage after killing. For the former, Del only has a scar gouged into her arm; it says Never. As to the latter, it is Del's time to seal the deal.

The story follows Del up into Hartford as she tries to find the Guild of St Peters, a body protecting mistreated preternaturals, and a separate arc at said guild, both connected by the machinations of the same demon. There's also at least one nascent romance, a prophecy, an outdated and brutal code of conduct left over from the Middles Ages, one ancient and legendary vampire, at least six types of preternatural, one parent-child clash, three coming of age arcs and a partridge in a pear tree. Oh, and a super hacker. The only thing missing, by my understand, are the katanas and the mirror shades.

Spink-Mills plays these story elements with straight-forwards enthusiasm. If you agree with her there's still interesting stories to be told with these elements, then you're in the right place. If you don't, I'm surprised you even read this far.

In any case, this is an interesting story. The characters and prose are engaging, the supernatural conceits don't fall apart the moment you look at them, and the number of times you want to scream at clumsy exposition/romance is very minimal. The two main plot strands are well-paced, suitably tense, and come together at the end nicely. These might seem like somewhat qualified statements and they are. I don't want to give anyone the impression that this book is the next great classic of its type. Its not - but it is actively good.

Where Heart Blade truly shines though is with its secondary characters, particularly the older ones. Their emotions and motivations are more confused than the youngsters yet no less strong. Not only does that nicely backlight the way youth can get monofocused, it also captures some intriguing individuals. My favourites are the demons linked to Del, but there's a good turn from the Guild cast too. Even the forbidding strict father-figure of the book comes off as likable, human, rational and cool, which is some trick. I'd argue he probably gets most of the book's best moments, along with aforementioned ancient and legendary vampire.

There are a few moments where the book falls down for me at least. There were times where I disagree with the author's logic and found myself irked by the characters' actions. It is hard to go into this without giving away spoilers though. I also found the start unnecessarily slow thanks to a seemingly little related prologue. Those are relatively minor quibbles though. More major were the well worn archetypes of the genre, which sometimes got very stereotypical. I am far from prickly when it comes to using a lot of genre conventions straight, but Heart Blade sails a bit close to the wind and it feels like the only true point of difference is Spink-Mills' voice and characters.

Fortunately, that is enough. And while I felt a little jaded in the opening third of the book, as it gathered pace I felt myself less and less bothered by the similarities to teenage World of Darkness campaigns and more with what was going to happen next. Particularly when the secondary characters got more of the spotlight.

All in all, Heart Blade is an enjoyable read, one that might not move the world but does allow you to forget it for a few hours. I look forwards to seeing where Juliana Spink-Mills goes with the series next.
 

HareBrain

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Where Heart Blade truly shines though is with its secondary characters, particularly the older ones.
I found this too. I think you might even have stolen this observation from my Goodreads review. :p

(I also liked that it didn't veer into teen soap opera love-triangle territory.)
 

The Big Peat

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I found this too. I think you might even have stolen this observation from my Goodreads review. :p

(I also liked that it didn't veer into teen soap opera love-triangle territory.)
If I'd stolen it I'd have mentioned the gas station attendants as well!

Although thanks for reminded me I need to copy this over to there as well.
 
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