Heartless is the first in the fantasy series Tales of Goldstone Wood written by Anne Elisabeth Stengl.
I got the chance to read the sequel of Heartless (Veiled Rose) before this, which gave me an interesting perspective. I'd recommend reading it in order - but if not, it worked this way too. It has an overlapping story that influences the other in a lovely way - either way you read it.
Princes Una of Parumvir is of age and is ready to begin being courted. Her father, the King, hasn't allowed any suitors before her eighteenth birthday - but now it's time to start welcoming them to the palace. The first one that arrives, however, is not the sort of prince she dreamed of. His name is Prince Aethelbald and he's sovereign over the strange and mysterious kingdom of Farthestshore - a place of magic and non-human citizens. But yet he has come to declare his love for Princess Una - before she's even tried to get over his ordinary looks and less than overtly charming personality.
Una finds herself much more attracted to another suitor. He's good looking and charismatic and everything she hoped for. But as she's being wooed by this more traditional suitor, Prince Aethelbald speaks to her father about danger. There is a dragon on a rush of terror, overrunning a far-off land, and Aethelbald warns that he may be on his way. He warns that Una may be in danger.
Yet the King sees no such danger, and Una is too taken with her new prince and irritated with the old to pay any attention...
Though soon the Dragon King himself is in Parumvir - and now it may be too late...
When writing out a summary like that, I find that Heartless sounds far more generalized than it actually is. Stengl has created an original fantasy fairy-tale for the 21st century - something weaved so well that it has an inherent magical and mystical tone.
It has an allegorical side to it, but though when I recognize it, it is amazing - I don't recognize it all that often. I'm more swept away by the story - which was genuinely surprising and intriguing with a complicated, yet delicate, plot that begins to roll out in a lovely, understated yet powerful way.
Plus, the overlap of plotting between Veiled Rose and Heartless convinces me thoroughly of Stengl's extensive intricacy of planning - I was wowed and fascinated with this detailed tale. These two novels give us two distinct tales, yet they enrich each other and provide so much unbelievable character depth and perspectives it was incredible to see.
The characters have a realism to them. At first, Una's immaturity and obsession with the more superficial love can be a little off-putting - but it's realistic and understandable. This is a story that allows her to grow and mature. The other characters are just as true-to-life with flaws and strengths - yet more proof that fantasy can be grounded in excellent, believable writing!
There is an enchanting melancholy to Heartless - a subtly and beauty to Stengl's gentle prose that can be heartwrenching and suspenseful as the danger and evil of the Dragon is exposed further. We follow this kingdom in peril and at the hands of a terrifying, inscrutable enemy - which can be as psychologically frightening as it can be physically.
A dreamy, trancelike state quickly morphs into a nightmare as Heartless takes darker turns. I was truly shocked at the twists - and delighted to be so! This is a romantic fantasy that is epic in size and scope! I am now utterly convinced that I will be scrambling for the next book in the Tales of Goldstone Wood - I'm not ready to give up learning more about these multilayered characters and the beautiful fantasy and magic their tales are told among!
*I received a copy of Heartless from the Bethany House Book Reviewers program, which you can check out here. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.