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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Heartless, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Heartless (Tales of Goldstone Wood), by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, is a fantasy book, with swords, magic, and dragons. (See here for my musings on why sword and sorcery fiction is popular). It won the Christy award for Best First Novel in 2011. I haven't read the other winners, and I'm not sure if a fantasy novel has won this particular Christy Award previously, but the award was well deserved.

Stengl does not have a Wikipedia article on her, and Heartless doesn't, either. Here is the Amazon page for the author, and she has a blog.

I'll try to give away as little as possible of the plot, but will muse on various aspects of the novel. The plot is complex.

First, I confess that I have read two novels, by the same author, published after Heartless, in her series, Tales of Goldstone Wood. The second one, Veiled Rose, mostly takes place before the events in Heartless. There are some allusions to these events in Heartless, indicating that the author didn't just write a second novel based on the first one -- the first one foreshadows the second, and she already had largely it in mind when writing the first. (There is supposed to be a fourth novel, to be released later this year.)

Second, there is no doubt in my mind that this qualifies as a Christian novel, by almost any standard. I don't say this because it mentions Christ, or God, or the Bible, or salvation. It doesn't. In fact, the theology of the characters is nearly non-existent. They don't worship together, and they don't pray on a regular basis. I hope to post later, giving more detail on why I say that the book is Christian. My guess is that the fact that there is no direct "preaching" in the book might make it more attractive to non-Christians.

There is a Christ-figure, not in the sense that he dies to pay for the sins of others, at least not within the events of this book, but in the sense that he comes from another realm -- fairyland -- with the purpose of taking a bride for himself.

There are, as I said, dragons. Stengl's dragons live a very long time. They can appear as dragons, huge lizards with wings and fiery breath, or as human, or at least human-like, beings. They can talk, and are intelligent. They love treasure. They are almost entirely evil. No dragon is a main character, but a few of them appear in the book, and they are important in it.

The theme of the book is trust. Una, a princess coming into adulthood, and who is one of the main characters, trusts the wrong person for much of the story, but finally comes to trust the right one. In fact, she trusts him enough to let him kill her, as a dragon, so that she may live as a human. The episode reminded me of the experience of Eustace Scrubb, transformed from a dragon to a human by Aslan, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C. S. Lewis, but Stengl's depiction is more gripping, and, as I said, coming to that point is, in large part, what the book is about.

This is a fine book, and compares well with good fantasy from mainstream publishers. I confess that I have read Heartless twice in less than two months, and I am glad that I did.

I have read both the hardback book and the Kindle edition. Bethany House, the publisher, is to be commended for the latter. Not only are there color ornaments, and the like, and not many typos, but you can go to page numbers in the book, if you need to.

The book could have used a map, but there isn't one, in either edition.

Thanks for reading. Read Heartless.


i am Grateful... Kerry i am. said...

I'd love to read a novel written by you, Martin. All joy.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks! Don't hold your breath . . .

I have read a book by you (not a novel).