Heartwood by Freya Robertson

HeartwoodA review by Nalini Haynes

Heartwood is the first in the Elemental Wars series BUT IT WORKS AS A STAND-ALONE. Yay. I’m a bit over reading 3 or 4 doorstoppers with at least a year in between then struggling to remember what happened previously.

(Take note, writers of epic trilogies, quartets and series: I’m a fan of recaps just like on TV. If clearly separated from the story and labelled as such, fans can choose whether to read the recap.)

Heartwood is a medieval-style fantasy with magic: think Terry Brooks’s Elfstones of Shannara with a touch of David Gemmell’s Legend plus added romance.

Heartwood is the spiritual and geological centre of the land; it’s a religious city not unlike Jerusalem with differing people groups at war. Peace talks are attacked by an unknown race of water elementals who cut out the heart of the Arbor, the tree around which Heartwood is built.

Dignitaries and members of Heartwood’s religious order divide into groups in an endeavour to complete various tasks before Heartwood falls to the water elementals’ expected second attack. Each of the key characters evolves as they reveal their backstory and undergo their ‘hero’s journey’.

Initially Heartwood explores religion, its differing meanings to key characters and various people groups’ interpretations of the same religion. This began as a powerful ingredient that, if followed through to the conclusion, would have made Heartwood a more philosophical novel.

The disability trope was touched upon with Dolosus, a one-armed man, diminished through the eyes of strangers. Unfortunately Dolosus appeared to be an inadequate fighter due to his disability during an early ambush but his skills were much improved — re-written? — for the last battle. I will gnash my teeth quietly at Dolosus’s tropy-ness, his magical-disabled-person trope and the other-oh-so-spoilery event. It’s my soap-box.

Heartwood could have benefited from Chekov’s gun: that is, placing elements on the ‘stage’ before they’re incorporated into the story. For example, the reader learns of a secret entrance into Heartwood just as our heroes are being tortured to learn its location.

During the final battle there is a hiatus that emphasises Heartwood’s romantic focus. I think Heartwood falls into the Romantic Fantasy genre: that is, it’s too much fantasy to be called romance; romantic story-threads are seeded early in the novel, leading to a romantic conclusion.

Overall an enjoyable story, Heartwood is recommended to fantasy readers, romantic fantasy readers and especially to Terry Brooks’s fans.

Freya has published 20 romance novels under the pseudonym Serenity Woods as well as publishing science fiction and fantasy under the name Freya Robertson.

UK Print
ISBN: 9780857663856
Format: Medium (B-Format) Paperback

US/CAN Print
ISBN: 9780857663863
Format: Large (Trade) Paperback

Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Rating: three and a half stars 3.5 out of 5 stars