Heart Blade by Juliana Spink Mills

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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#1
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There is the old adage about not judging a book by the cover, and this is one of those novels where I did just that. I am not one for reading the blurb on the back, feeling that it sometimes can give away something of the story I am about to read. So I settled down to read Heart Blade expecting it to be something totally different to what it was, for some reason, but this was not a bad thing, because I probably enjoyed it more because of it.

In some ways the story is reminiscent of the set up for a YA novel, the main cast are all young, supplemented with a few ‘adult’ characters – I use the inverted commas, because adult does not begin to do them justice, some of them are centuries old. Del is a teenage girl, Ash is a teenage boy, coming from opposing factions, impossible to be together but have that attraction anyway, parents never going to approve...

But the author manages, as all the good ones do, to put her own spin on the common tropes and to invest the characters with enough of their own personalities to make it work and work well.

Del is a half-demon, Ash an Angel Blood, both feel constricted by the rules that govern their society and Del particularly wants out. She resents being turned from human to demon, and all that means, including the loss of her memories. She has reached the point of her transformation where she must cement her place as a member of the pack run by one of the most powerful demons in the area, Raven. To do this she must take a life, and not wanting to do so puts her on the run.

There is a third character, Rose. She is being protected by a neutral group, who want only to keep her safe. She is, however, considered to be the recipient of the Heart Blade, a near mythical weapon that can bring (in simple terms) good or evil. And everyone wants her and are willing to play dirty to get her.

It sets up a three pronged story, with a few other interesting characters added to the mix, as the majority of characters are after Rose, while one or two are trying to track down Del.

The story is told deftly, and with some perfect set pieces that keep the adrenaline flowing nicely for the reader. It is not over the top action, allowing for some interesting characters, their development and some interesting world building.

Points of interest include the supernatural elements are not all equal; some seem to be dying out, while despite the laws and agreements in place some are more than willing to twist the rules to the edge of breaking to get what they want. This leads to a level of feuding, animosity and half paid grudges, all that add fire to the flames.

One of the most important ideas, are the soul blades – weapons that are used mostly by the demons, forged from their discarded mortal souls and drawn from their hearts rather than a sheath.

There are some lovely twists and turns throughout, with a couple of really big ‘wrongfooters’ that do what they are meant to do, are logical and not just for shock. The fact that I got annoyed with the characters is another sure sign the Mills is telling a story that works, if you did not care for, or hate characters then there would be something wrong.

Finally, the book finishes with a twist that is so delicious that it makes it all the more special, and as with all good twists it is so logical in hindsight that you want to say that you always saw it coming.

But you didn’t.

Heart Blade is available at Amazon.com
 

HareBrain

Bunny of Wonder
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#5
Here's my review of the sequel, Night Blade:

***

Night Blade is a good read and a worthy sequel to Heart Blade, advancing and deepening the series story without bogging down or muddling it, which is quite an achievement. For me, it doesn’t quite reach the very high bar set by the first book, but I’d still heartily recommend it (though I’d even more recommend reading Heart Blade first, for those who haven’t already) and it should reassure those waiting to see if the series is on a good track.

The plot – skilfully woven, being intricate but never unclear – has two strands. The main one concerns Rose, a second-rank character from the first book, who here is tasked to infiltrate a classic heist, an attempt to break into a preternatural baron’s house and steal the fabulous eponymous sword. This is a lot of fun, especially the preparation for the heist, the magic involved, the unmasking of a traitor, etc. The heist itself features some interesting ideas and magic, if perhaps less of the lively character interaction that marked the preparation phase, and the aftermath is satisfying.

The secondary strand involves Del (the main character from Heart Blade) and other characters attending a big council-type gathering of preternaturals. This is where I found a slight weakness in the book, in comparison to Rose’s strand, and Heart Blade. I wasn’t totally engrossed by the shenanigans at the meeting, nor entirely rooted in what the characters were doing there, which seemed largely bureaucratic – though not entirely: there’s one great “Oh, wow!” moment when the truth behind the word NEVER on Del’s arm is revealed, suggesting an exciting direction for her future story and the series.

Both strands enlarge our understanding of the inter-clan politics and feelings of the pretenaturals’ world, and these are always interesting; it’s just that the meeting strand didn’t grab me as much emotionally. But this is made up for to a large extent by a satisfying and moving ending, which draws both strands together and made me very keen to find out how the series will progress. And you realise how much you like a character when you get such a thrill from seeing them rewarded, as happens here (though I won’t say who!)

As in Heart Blade, this for me avoids the traps of a lot of the YA novels I’ve read (or started): the drama arises naturally from the story without being emotionally ramped up for the sake of it, and the adult characters feel just as realised as the teenagers. The characterisation all told is extremely good, with everyone being distinct. The series looks to be in safe hands, and deserves many more readers than it seems to have.
 

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