Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Review: Hearts of Ice and Stone by Martin Dukes

by Martin Dukes
Release Date: July 23, 2023 (Originally published November 20, 2022)
2023 Independently Published
Ebook Edition; 460 Pages
ISBN: 978-8853116375
Genre: Fiction / Alternate History / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from author

3.5 / 5 Stars

Laura DeLacey never realised that she was different to those around her, or that she was touched in some way by the heavens, until she first set foot, contrary to all law and tradition, within the grim portals of Darkharrow. Here, in the remote Eastings of Britannia, far from the wealth and power of London, the dead lie sleeping beneath the ancient towers and cloisters of the great abbey. For some of these, destiny dictates that their long slumber shall endure until the last trump sounds and all of the dead rise from their graves at last, but a fortunate few are fated to reawaken well before that day. No one has ever been able to look upon the countenances of the departed and tell whether they may be awakened, whether their hearts are of ice or of stone, and none have been able to summon them forth once more- until now.

Caught between the competing affections of those who love her, threatened by those who would destroy her, Laura finds herself enmeshed in a web of conspiracy that draws upon her deepest resources and enforces choices upon her of the most momentous kind.
My Thoughts
Hearts of Ice and Stone is the first book in this series, and I enjoyed the theological and philosophical themes that were highlighted in this story. The writing style was different, but I think it suited the type of story being told as it was set in an alternate 18th century Britain known as Britannia, with enough similarities to our historical world that I was constantly comparing characters to historical figures if I thought they were based off them. I don't know if I would necessarily call this book a Gothic fantasy, but more of an alternate history fantasy.  
The setting is one of the things I highly enjoyed about this book. Having a history background, I have always liked alternate histories, especially ones that delve into the horror element of the 'What if?'.  In this book we have a society built around the dead, but one where dead bodies can reanimate, and no one knows why this happens. Naturally, an entire religious sect has developed around this circumstance, and only certain people are allowed within the hallowed sanctums where the dead lie, so it is inevitable that corruption and legends and traditions would build around such a thing.  This developed into a complicated society where even kings are just stewards in this land as previous kings and queens could rise up again and reclaim their thrones.  The possibilities for intrigue and treason abound, and although the author touched upon these topics, they were not really developed and I did find this a bit frustrating. There were discussions about the amount of money spent on these dead halls while people were starving in the streets, rebellions forming, discontent happening, and while the main characters were part of some of this, I don't feel the discussions went deep enough or went hard enough to really show the main issues or how horrible were the lives of the people.  

This leads to the theological and philosophical themes that were present in this book. The main character developed these powers to literally raise the dead, an event that shook the very foundations upon which the world was built. Naturally, the powers that be were terrified of what Laura would eventually be capable of, therefore everyone wanted her blood.  But what I especially enjoyed was Laura's power and the consequences of that power. I thought that was exceedingly well done as so many fantasy novels just give their main characters these great powers, but rarely have them suffer from its use. 

I did enjoy the plot, but I wasn't crazy about the ending.  I don't necessarily need a happy ending, per se, but the one in this book just didn't seem to match the rest of the book which was a disappointment. And while I liked the characters, I did think some of the character development was lacking especially in terms of motivations. I would have liked to see both the Bishop and Edward, for example, struggle quite a bit more with their decisions, and not have them used as convenience decisions just to move along the plot.  I also thought the revenants could have used a bit more explanation. However, Laura was a great character and I loved her fighting spirit.

Hearts of Ice and Stone had a unique alternate setting and I loved the author's writing style.  While I may have wished for more development on the themes in this story as the theological and philosophical ideas were quite intriguing, the plot was still quite interesting and moved rather quickly.  I am looking forward to reading the sequel to this book, Well of Souls, and perhaps delving more into those themes in which I am intrigued. I definitely recommend this book if you are looking for an interesting alternate fantasy to 18th century Britain. 



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