by Elle Katherine White
A Review by
Colleen R. Cahill
There are plenty of adaptations of Jane Austen, especially of Pride and Prejudice: if you don’t believe me just look at the list in Wikipedia. Some are better known, such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and some not so much, as in Pride and Prejudice and Kitties. One work fans of Austin will not want to miss is Heartstone, the first novel from Elle Katherine White and one that is a charming mix of medieval epic fantasy and the characters of one of Austin’s most popular works.
The Lord of Merybourne Manor has sent for Riders to deal with an infestation of gryphons that are making it dangerous and even fatal to step outside the Manor walls. These five Riders, so called because they ride wyverns, dragons and other mounts of intelligence and great size, are not unlike knights, as they battle any creatures that are hostile to humans, such as direwolves, banshees and lindworms. Aliza, the narrator and the second of five daughters of Sir Robart Bentaine, finds it her bad luck that a dragon Rider appears when she is “sweaty, dirt-stained, hair all amuss, and staring like a halfwitted schoolgirl”. The fact that Master Daired is not only from the most elite family but is also very handsome is just salt to the wound. His arrogance and disdain of her does not make the atmosphere any better and things go completely South when the fearful garden hobgoblins, who are sure they will be eaten by the wyverns, commence a mud attack on the hapless Daired. So begins a tempestuous relationship!
As you might expect, Aliza’s mother is determined her four daughters will attend the banquet greeting the Riders and is delighted to learn that Rider Brysney and his sister will be renting a house nearby the Manor. And before you think it is a typo, yes, her four daughters, as her youngest was a victim of the gryphons, which is a major plot point in this novel. Heartstone is not a pastiche of Pride and Prejudice but more a blending of elements of this book with an epic fantasy. On one hand, you have familiar characters, as in the strong-minded Aliza being similar to Eliza Bennet and her older sister Anjey being very like Jane Bennet (notice the almost anagram name?). On the other hand, the motivations and even large sections of the plot are from the author’s imaginatio n; while Aliza’s mother is loud and often puts her foot in her mouth, her focus on marrying off her daughters is to get them away from Merybourne and its dangers, although she would not object if they married well. The gryphons and other monsters are a major focus of this book, a very interesting one in themselves. White as divided intelligent non-humans, known together as Oldkind, into three groups: the Shani, who are friendly to humans, the Idar, who are indifferent, and the Tekari, who want to wipe out humankind. The latter are the reason Riders exist.
If you are a Lydia fan, do not despair, as the Bentaine’s fourth daughter Leyda is as unrestrained as her counterpart. Again, her motivation is different; Leyda seeks to embrace all of life because she feels her youngest sister “would’ve wanted us to live, and that is what I mean to do”. This is not just wanting to have every dance, but also to hunting down the Tekari. It is this latter desire that leads her into the hands of Ranger Wydrick who is the blackard you expect but in a different way that Wickham. The tension between Daired and Wydrick does revolve around Daired’s sister, but not due to any romantic reasons.
I could go deeper but I would be spoiling the book for you. This blending is delightful and what makes it work is the skill of the author in not only bringing these two less-than-matching pieces together, but in not duplicating Pride and Prejudice. Her world, characters and much of the plot are of her own making and very well done. So while the Austen connection makes this book fun, it is the skillful writing that makes it a page-turning novel. I highly recommend this book for fans of not only fantasy or Austen, but also those looking for a fascinating read.