The Heartwood Crown (Sunlit Lands #2) – Matt Mikalatos

The Heartwood Crown Matt Mikalatos
The Heartwood Crown by Matt Mikalatos
Also by this author: The Crescent Stone, The Story King
Series: The Sunlit Lands #2
Published by Wander on August 6, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Fantasy, Young Adult
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five-stars

After destroying the Crescent Stone, Madeline returns home, bringing Shula and Yenil with her. As her health continues to deteriorate, Madeline feels the Sunlit Lands calling her back. Meanwhile, Jason, Darius, and the rest of the inhabitants of the Sunlit Lands fight for survival and freedom. The magic that fuels the land is failing, threatening to destroy them all. Will Madeline's return save the land and its people? Matt's signature humor and epic storytelling are once again on full display in The Heartwood Crown.

*Attention: contains spoilers for The Crescent Stone (The Sunlit Lands #1)*

Okay. The most difficult part of writing a review for The Crescent Stone was not spoiling the great big twist that serves as the book’s thematic hook. What is the book about? Well…hard to say in too much detail because it concerns the book’s big plot twist. So, if you haven’t read The Crescent Stone, STOP NOW. The rest of you, continue…

The Heartwood Crown begins in what looks like victory. The Crescent Stone has been destroyed and with it the magic that kept Elenil society thriving at the Scim’s expense. Madeline, having rejected her year of service, accepts her disease back into herself and escapes with Shula and Yenil. Shula was a human bound in service to the Elenil, originally from Syria. Yenil is a young child, one of the Scim. Madeline’s parents accept her return rather casually, not even really questioning the addition of Shula and Yenil to the family. (Is there something up with that? There’s gotta be something up with that?)

Jason is still in the Sunlit Lands living his best life, which, for him, means being a wanted man by nearly every race of people and having accidentally gotten engaged to Baileya. (It’s a long story. That story is called The Crescent Stone.) Darius is there as well, seeking his revenge on the leader of the Elenil. The destruction of the Crescent Stone was supposed to be the key to righting the wrongs in the Sunlit Lands, but, by and large, society continues on as normal.

We get a lot from Darius’s perspective in The Heartwood Crown, which builds even more depth to the story through a strong third point of view. His big struggle is how we are to go about enacting justice and correcting wrongs and that personal struggle gets writ large throughout the events of the story.

What seemed like loose threads, red herrings, and rabbit trails in The Crescent Stone get tied up or explored here. In particular, I enjoyed Mikalatos’ portrayal of the necromancers. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t even begin to see it coming. It isn’t often a book takes me completely by surprise in a good way, but Matt seems to be able to do it consistently.

The story does get a bit heavy and bogged down. It’s doing a lot of work to 1) play off the events of book one and expand the world; 2) tell its own self-contained story; and 3) set up the plot threads and events necessary for the conclusion in The Story King. Too often, middle novels in a trilogy act as journey novels—they simply get us from the beginning to the end. Mikalatos does that, but gives readers a story that stands in its own right, bowing but never breaking under the weight.

Weighty is the word I keep coming back to. The weight of the world is on Mikalatos’ shoulders in The Heartwood Crown. The weightiness of the issues he confronts, issues that matter to both the Sunlit Lands and our own world. And also just the weightiness in a literary sense of world building as the world of the Sunlit Lands expands. To tell the story of everything is a difficult task, indeed, and Matt has to make choices of which stories best serve the overall narrative.

I would have liked to have seen a bit more time spent on Madeline’s storyline. It’s ostensibly the main storyline, but never really felt like it. It also felt a bit slow and plodding (though, hey, the main character does have a disease that prevents her from breathing easily, so action isn’t quite on the menu.) There’s a lot of complexity and lore that gets dumped in this particular storyline and maybe it could have been stretched out a bit into book three. (But there’s also good publishing industry reasons why it wasn’t.)

Jason continues to be a favorite. I’m not convinced I like the storyline where Baileya’s family is trying to kill him for being engaged to her. It doesn’t seem necessary and is always sort of interjected into the plot as almost a recurring gag without going anywhere. But yeah, I’m going really deep here to find anything to criticize and when I have such a strong opinion about a relatively minor story point, it’s safe to say that I’ve fallen in love with the story.

The Heartwood Crown isn’t the kind of book you read casually. I mean, you can. It can be just entertainment for you. You can read it like that and it is better entertainment than most books you’ll find. But really read it. Soak it in. Read it undistracted. It took me a month to read these books because, halfway into book one, I committed to only reading them when I knew I had at least an hour block of not being distracted. This is a story that deserves your complete attention. Its magic is real. Its power is undeniable. Settle in and let the story flow over you.

five-stars