Heartstone, Book 1
Heat Factor: There’s dragonfire, but that’s about it
Character Chemistry: Not really
Plot: Pride and Prejudice and Dragons
Overall: I was low-key stressed the whole time I was reading this book
Mr. Darcy, dragonrider. How could I not? I have, after all, become The Smut Report’s go-to person for Pride and Prejudice retellings. And this one has dragons.
The basic set up: Aliza Bentaine’s community is being harassed by a horde of gryphons. After one of her sisters is killed (sorry Kitty), dragonriders are called in. Enter one Lord Alistair Daired, who makes an immediate bad impression with his snobbish ways – even if he is a dragonrider, there’s no need for him to be so rude! And we’re off.
Before I start in on the strengths and weaknesses of Heartstone – it was definitely a mixed bag – let me preface with a content warning. There is a lot of violence in this book. It is pretty cartoony, but still. Swordfights just for funsies, monsters being decapitated, etc.
Ok! Worldbuilding. There are some definite highs here, but there are also some gaping holes in the worldbuilding.
- White envisions this society as essentially a caste system – you must be born into the warrior caste in order to become a dragonrider. This allows her to establish real societal differences between Daired and Aliza, but also eschew traditional gender roles. Ladies can ride dragons too.
- There’s a whole religious system. It’s a fun addition which made the world much richer.
- Less believable: White establishes that this is a really dangerous world – there are hordes of all kinds of marauding monsters that pop up all the time. And eat people. But when our characters travel from place to place, they travel in carriages without outriders. What is this nonsense?!?! And actually – how do people survive at all in unfortified communities, since the dragonriders travel around and protect towns only when paid the bounty to do so. (A libertarian’s dream, right there!)
Ultimately, I think this book stressed me out because White did not quite strike a balance between showing that the world was violent, and showing that the characters understood that the world was violent.
I also want to talk about plot. While Heartstone has a strong beginning, the plot ultimately unravels; furthermore, this unraveling is intimately tied to close adherence to P&P. Basically, the book ends with an epic battle sequence, which is not unexpected, given the world we’re in. However, a few secondary characters make some decisions that seem unwarranted – mainly because it is difficult to develop these secondary characters while also closely adhering to the beats of P&P.
Let’s focus in on the Wickham character, who talks Leyda into joining a regiment and going off to fight in the country’s time of need. Now, this is a nice twist on the whole Wickham/Lydia plotline; having Leyda want to fight and have adventures (like her older sisters are doing!) means that Leyda doesn’t come across as silly. Impetuous, yes; immature, maybe. But silly, no. However. When she joins up, the family freaks out as if it’s the end of the world. Yes, she is in mortal danger, but they live in a world where anyone could be killed by a lamia at any time.
The Wickham character then does something so utterly incomprehensible and evil that it just lost me. Obviously, he had to do something more terrible than tell her that the army was fun for him to be the villain, but frankly, the character work had not been done to show that he was a completely unredeemed villain rather than a selfish jerk. In addition, the other components of Wickham’s personality which make him essential to the original are underdeveloped – it seemed like this plot was thrown in to make Heartstone follow P&P without a real focus on what about this plotline is actually important for the story’s development.
Finally, I must acknowledge that the transition from hate to love in this case was rather abrupt and seemed unwarranted. Daired proposes rudely; Aliza rejects him. Daired’s dragon is like, “Aliza, you misjudged him.” Aliza is like, “You’re right, I must be feeling love instead of hate. Now I will risk my life to saaaaaaaaaave him!”
So I didn’t believe the romance (if this were anything besides a P&P retelling, I would categorize this as smut adjacent), but it was still a fairly fun story, plot holes notwithstanding.
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