3/13/17

Heartstone, by Elle Katharine White

Heartstone, by Elle Katharine White (Harper Voyager, January 2017), has an incredibly catchy premise--Pride and Prejudice with dragons!  And if you find that an appealing thought, you should definitely add this one to your pile.  NB--I have read P. and P. more times than I can remember, so I'll be sprinkling this post with references to the original...

Aliza Bentaine lost her little sister to a gryphon attack (Kitty didn't add much to the original so her death doesn't have much affect on the plot, except that here it gives Aliza a backstory of loss and fear that adds to her character arc).  The gryphons are just one of a number of mythological creatures attacking this version of England, but happily there are other creatures who have joined with humankind to fight back.  Some brave men and women fight on foot, others ride on wyverns and dragons...The people of Aliza's community, Merybourne Manor, have scraped together enough money to hire a group of riders to solve their gryphon problem, but get more than they paid for when one of the hired guns turns out to be a dragon rider, the most elite fighter there is.

Alaister Daired is very conscious of just how elite he and his family are, and he turns out to be a most unlikeable individual. Aliza, for good reasons, quickly forms a prejudice against him.  Her older sister, however, quickly forms an attachment to Daired's wyvern-riding best friend, Brysney....(and instead of simple house calls and formal dances, we get gryphon slaying, in which Aliza is forced to take a much more active a role than she wished to, slaying one herself.  Although there is also a dance).

A band of Rangers, foot-soldiers not bounded to fantastical creatures and much lower in the social hierarchy, show up in town too, including the not-unappealing Wydrick, who tells Aliza how Daired wronged him, lowering her opinion of him even more.  Mr. Curdred, the heir to the manor, also arrives, and (in as much as he is playing the part of Mr. Collins), asks Aliza to marry him  (Mr. Curdred has more too him than at first appears, unlike Mr. Collins)....and of course her dear friend ends up doing so (although for somewhat unexpected reasons).

So far, so good with P. and P. retelling; everyone is assembled and recognizable, although there are sufficient twists to the story and setting to make this more than just a rehashing of the original.  I was thrown off by "Mary" being described as an introspective blue-stocking, as both concepts post-date Jane Austen's period, and indeed I was never really convinced I was in a Regency England equivalent,  but the excitements of monster hunting, the introduction of a strange shadowy character only Aliza can see, and other assorted bits of magicalness made the story unique enough so that I was willing to ignore this. 

And then we get to my favorite bits of the story, the real meat of the romance, to which the author is faithful enough to please me while allowing dragons, Daired's dragon in particular, to have speaking parts...and the equivalent of the "Pemberley" scenes was lovely, although Daired's transformation in certain particulars seemed unconvincing if looked at too closely.

Though I would have been happy to stay at Pemberely and enjoy the rising consciousness of love on Aliza's part (and shirtless Daired),  perforce I was whisked to an epic and dramatic monster battle, that gave Leyda's (Lydia) story a much more interesting arc than simply eloping with Wydrick, and also, satisfyingly, gave Mr. Brysney's sister (a monster hunter in her own right) a chance to do more than just hate Aliza for winning Daired's heart.  Though perhaps not as exquisitely intelligent as Elizabeth Bennett (who is?), Aliza is a more active agent in the plot (it helps that there's a more active plot in which to be an active participant), and this turned out to be an appealing part of the story.  I also appreciated that characters who were one dimensional idiots in the original are given more complexity here.

It was a somewhat distracting read, because of knowing the original so well...though I enjoyed it, and a lot of the fun was seeing the familiar transformed, it made it hard to evaluate this reimagining on its own merit.  I am pretty sure it works, though; the dragons and mortal peril add enough of a difference to make it feel like its own, exciting and romantic, story!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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