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Heartless

by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Series: Tales of Goldstone Wood #1
363 pages, Fantasy
Reviewed by Jeanne

A stupendous debut novel, rich and engrossing.

Plot

Princess Una of Parumvir has just come of age, and she awaits the arrival of her first suitors with much excitement. Prince Aethelbald of Farthestshore, however, is not quite what she had in mind. With a name like 'Aethelbald' and perfectly ordinary looks, he can't compete with Una's dreams of a dashing prince, and she refuses to hear his offer - or to heed the warnings of a Dragon who is seeking her. When Una gives her heart away to a man unworthy of it, she finds herself heartless and vulnerable before the Dragon King. Who can save her from herself?

Morality

Very good. Characters are sometimes foolish, not always heeding Aethelbald's warnings and instructions, but they also show such virtues as loyalty, love, and selflessness. One character is particularly selfish and cowardly, but his behavior is not condoned. In the earlier chapters of the book Una is at times disobedient to her nurse; later, she is consumed by self-pity, fear, and hatred. Prince Aethelbald, a Christ-like figure, is loving and selfless.

Spiritual Content

Many elements of 'Heartless' are allegorical, similar to C.S. Lewis' 'The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader"', but it is not the type of allegory that screams in your face. The hopelessness of the human condition in the bondage of sin and Man's inability to help himself is illustrated by Una's plight. A woodthrush is used to symbolize the Holy Spirit.

Magic is not used in the story, but there are "magical" beings and objects such as goblins and dragons. At one point a goblin attempts to show Una her future, with disastrous consequences. Una has somewhat prophetic dreams. One character is a shape-shifter. There are two worlds, the Near and the Far, and Goldstone Wood seems to connect them; one character stays in a place between the two worlds for a time.

Violence

Felix, Una's brother, has fencing matches with several characters. There are a few battles in which many die from dragon fumes, and the Dragon kills or wounds several people individually. Characters are chased by enemies and one is set upon and wounded by a dragon, taking in dragon poison. The remains of a man killed by a dragon are said to have been found. The consuming flame inside the dragons is described.

The violence is not graphic at all, but as an allegory some elements of the novel are quite dark, especially those involving Una's dreams and the two antagonists Death-in-Life and Life-in-Death. The agony Una goes through in her loneliness and fear is poignantly shown.

Drug and Alcohol Content

None.

Sexual Content

One villain attempts to arrange a marriage with Una, though she is unwilling, but that is the extent of his threats. Some kisses.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

It is mentioned that various characters swear (one of them a villain) under provocation. "Dragon-eaten" is used as an adjective. A few minor characters swear by the Dragon King.

Conclusion

I read this first book in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series after 'Veiled Rose,' the second novel, and found it just as well-written and powerful. The writing is excellent, sprinkled with dry humor toward the beginning that does become less as the darkness of the story grows, and the characters wonderful. I especially appreciated the authoress' ability to weave this book with 'Veiled Rose,' even using scenes from 'Heartless' in its sequel, but from another person's point of view. The metaphors and allegories used are also very apt, and, not to be punny, there is a lot of heart in everything about the book.

Note: Both books in the Tales of Goldstone Wood ought to be read in order to appreciate them fully, though they can be read in any order.

Fun Score: 5
Values Score: 4.5
Written for Age: 13+

Review Rating:

Average rating: 4 stars
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