Heartwood by Freya Robertson
Genre – Epic Fantasy
About the Book – Heartwood is Imaginative but Slow
“When Chonrad was a child, the Arbor turned him away. As an adult, he comes to Heartwood for the Congressus peace talks with mixed feelings, but he is prepared to put aside his resentment to keep peace in the land. And then the Darkwater Lords attack.
Now the tree is dying, its heart stolen. The real meaning of the Veriditas—the ancient power of the greening—has been lost. The tree’s roots are no longer keeping the land alive.
The four peoples of Anguis and the Militis knights of Heartwood must work together to save the Arbor. Chonrad discovers he can provide the vital link between the people and the land as the element of water begins to rise. Will he help? Or will he turn his back on the tree who rejected him?
There will be journeys to the ends of the earth, to the bottom of the ocean, and to the deepest part of the hearts of men and women. Truth, honesty, and love will triumph, but the Darkwater Lords are many and powerful, and only the strong will prevail…” – Publisher Blurb
The Story – 2/5 – Uneven but Intriguing
Miss Robertson has done something we thought impossible. She has too much world building. More on that later. Heartwood is an epic fantasy tale, and we should put some emphasis on epic. It is one long book. While we usually enjoy longer books, this one comes off as sluggish. A bit padded at times, the story isn’t incredibly original. Miss Robertson gets some credit, she’s done a lot of work here. However, a book 200 pages shorter could have told the story better.
That said, what book couldn’t have been written better? A world on the verge of destruction can make a good motivator, but the pacing of the book never gives us that sense of urgency. What we end up with is a story that seems confused, though mostly just slow. Eventually, we proceed with an epic quest, but the entirety of it is just too familiar. We expect more, and we think that readers will expect more too.
The characters are only a somewhat likable, which is impressive given how much time is spent describing them. In fact, entirely too much of the text is devoted to building the characters and the world. The old adage show don’t tell was not followed here, and we see how things can turn out when we get too much telling. We hear about characters, histories and so much more only to have it pushed aside a moment later to happen all over again. There is a lot of this, and sadly, it really hurts the whole of the book. In the end, Heartwood could have been so much better.
The Writing & Style – 4/5 – Solid Though Stale
Now, what Heartwood lacks in the story department, it makes up for in the writing. Miss Robertson can sell a description, the prose, while not quite poetry, is easy enough to read. As well, there are few, if any, errors in the text. There is nothing here to distract us, and we like that. Some of the best writing is barely noticeable, and Miss Robertson has that down. At the same time, more could have been done to create a distinctive voice. Taking lines from this book, there is nothing that would tell us Freya Robertson wrote this. All in all, the writing is clinical, good if stagnant.
Literary Value – 2/5 – Missed Opportunities
So, we have a world that is dying. Cool. We were kind of hoping for some kind of central message, beyond the obvious, and we were left scratching our heads. The land is dying, and Chonrad actually needs to decide if he wants to save it? This seems like a stretch for us. In fact, most of the events of the story require a substantial suspension of disbelief. This hurts the book when every few pages the reader questions the nature of the reality being presented. It is contrived, with any central themes feeling neglected. There could have been some good stuff here, even with the lackluster story, the book could have been salvaged if it had asked hard questions and made the reader think about real-world implications.
Overall – 3/5 – Heartwood never rises to the occasion
While our we may be a bit harder on books this year than we have been in years past, Heartwood made it easy. While inoffensive, this book never does anything that makes it worth reading any more than any other epic fantasy. Because of that, there is a massive list of books that we could recommend before making it down to this boring read. All of that said, we liked the cover. That has been enough to sell a book before, maybe it will be again. There was another old saying about books and their covers, wasn’t there?
So, do you really want to read Heartwood? You can find it here.