Also by this author: Golden Daughter, Shadow Hand, Dragonwitch, Starflower, Moonblood, Veiled Rose, Fallen Star: A Short Story of Goldstone Wood, Draven's Light
Series: Tales of Goldstone Wood #1
Published by Bethany House on July 2010
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Fantasy
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Princess Una of Parumvir has come of age and will soon be married. She dreams of a handsome and charming prince, but when the first suitor arrives, she finds him stodgy and boring. Prince Aethelbald from the mysterious land of Farthest shore has traveled far to prove his love and also to bring hushed warnings of danger. A dragon is rumored to be approaching Parumvir. Una, smitten instead with a more dashing prince, refuses Aethelbald's offer and ignores his warnings. Soon the Dragon King himself is in Parumvir, and Una, in giving her heart away unwisely, finds herself in grave danger. Only those courageous enough to risk everything have a hope of fighting off this advancing evil.
A few months ago, I picked up the fifth book in Tales of Goldstone Wood, Dragonwitch, and was immediately drawn into the series. It had been quite some time since I had read a fantasy series that managed to touch on such poignant themes without crashing through a number of Christian fantasy tropes and Tolkien or Lewisesque writing style. And thus, I began a month-long journey through Stengl’s world, being captivated by her locations, characters, and imagery. It was altogether brilliant.
Heartless begins with Princess Una of Parumvir dealing with the natural consequences of being a princess right around the age of marrying. At first, she despairs because she has no suitors, but then when they come, she finds herself wishing they hadn’t. But above and beyond all her suitors stands Prince Aethelbald of Farthestshore. Some thought him a legend of the past, others a myth that never existed. None believed him to be flesh and blood. In a word, Aethelbald is perfection. But Una is not convinced, spurning the Prince’s love. Instead, she falls prey to the love of a much darker character.
The heart of Heartless is a love story of redemption. Aethelbald, the perfect prince who offers unconditional love; Una, the immature, spoiled princess who spurns that love and seeks her own way. In the end, Aethelbald will have to go to extreme measures to claim his bride. Though the storyline is typical for Christian fantasy, Stengl does a good job of owning the story, creating enough unique elements to keep from being derivative or boring. At times, the story does suffer from having the analogy drive the story rather than the story giving life to the analogy, but I find this forgivable.
In all honesty, had I begun with Heartless, I don’t know that I would have continued on in the series. But the past four years has done wonders for Stengl’s writing ability and she’s expanded the series to touch on themes less tropeish. Not that Heartless is a bad novel, just that it’s a standard redemption story told in Christian fantasy. What kept me reading was Stengl’s breathtaking locations and her great characterization. Heartless won the 2010 Christy Award for Debut Novel and I can certainly see why. Even with its flaws, it’s a beautiful story that lays the foundation for the rest of the series.