‘Pride and Prejudice with dragons’ should be classed as its own subgenre. Heartstone is not the first book I’ve seen that falls into it and I doubt it will be the last.
It’s the only one I’ve seen that does hit almost every plot point beat by beat (except for the climax, sort of). You see it in the names. Our girl here is Aliza, the Darcy analog is Daired, and so on. I don’t mind this at all, as I like Pride and Prejudice a lot. It is my dad’s favorite movie so I grew up watching it. I know the plot points well. Heartstone is a very enjoyable book even if it does draw directly on 90% of them. It is paced a bit differently, to make room for some of the new elements, but if you know Pride and Prejudice, you know what those plot points are.
Aliza is very like Elizabeth, but less bookish and more of an artist. She’s also not the estate owner’s daughter here, but rather his steward’s daughter, second eldest of four. The issue is the amiable Lord has no heir and his successor might well fire her father. Considering later plot developments as well as the fact that there are other respectable options for the girls, the stakes seem less high in the pursuit of marriage. This world is more egalitarian, though not so much that it disrupts the plot. Aliza also exists in a world that ends up requiring a lot more physical courage than Elizabeth would ever have had to show. I don’t know if Austin’s heroine could have pulled that off. The way this world is makes Aliza different enough from Elizabeth that you won’t feel bored.
Other characters are noticeably different. Her mom is a lot less silly. Her dad seems less cranky and distant. Her parents’ relationship seems a lot more conventionally loving. The elder sister is much the same, but the younger two are different. There’s also a dead youngest one, which is an important character development point for our girl.
I think the biggest difference is for the guy playing Darcy’s role. He is not Darcy. Oh, he is like him in a lot of ways, but I think Darcy would rather die than in any way publically share embarrassment. I don’t think he can blush. Daired does with fair frequency. His standoffishness seems more deliberate, a product of being aware of his place as heir of his important-to-the-kingdom house, whereas Darcy’s is just the way he is. Also, you know, Daired is a dragon rider.
The division between Riders and ordinary folk is the primary form of class division at play in this story. It’s complicated. There’s also friendly intelligent mythical animals, enemy unfriendly intelligent mythical animals, and just plain violent unintelligent mythical animals. These issues are the source of the plot’s major breaks from Pride and Prejudice. It’s foreshadowed nicely and adds a lot to a story I know well.
Why, yes, this is an action fantasy story to a noticeable degree. If you just want Austin’s England where Darcy rides a dragon, where everyone spends all their time going to parties and getting embarrassed by their mom, where the greatest trauma is that someone runs off with the wrong kind of man, this is not that. That stuff happens, too, but so does some monster slaying.
What’s interesting about Heartstone is that I think it could have a sequel. There’s stuff going on in the background that gets lost in the hectic pace of the climax and the joy of the happy ending. Something even bigger appears to be up. It’s an interesting world, too, and I would like to see how Aliza and Daired fare in it together. A sequel is not necessary, however, and you can see how it might be that everything did get wrapped up in the end.
Here’s a taste of what to expect on Heartstone:
Daired’s dragon arched her sinuous neck over his shoulder as Leyda and Tobble scurried off. Even several strides away I felt waves of heat radiating from her. She lowered her head and watched me with unblinking eyes the color of fire opals…
“We have a long game to plan, and I’ll not waste a moment,” Mama said, eyes sparkling in a way that did not bode well for any of my sisters. “I have to put the pieces in motion. Angelina needs a dress!” she cried, and before Papa could stop her, she was out the door.
“Aliza, my dear, for whatever happens tonight, please accept my sincerest apologies,” he said as the door swung shut.
As if Daired’s invitation had conjured her from thin air, Aunt Lissa appeared at my side. “What’s this? I heard something about food.”
Hisses and shrieks erupted behind me as I caught the stone lip and swung out of the pit. A long-nailed hand clawed at my boot and I kicked free, my heel crunching against scales and bone. The lamia screamed and fell back, giving me a half second head start as the snakish creatures swarmed over their fallen sister and up the steps, blades swinging.
I enjoyed this book as a fun rewrite of a story I really like. I feel the same way about a lot of the rewrites of Beauty and The Beast that I’ve read. I know where the story is going, but I enjoy the way the author chooses to get there. It’s a comfortable read. I got this book for free during my jog over to the World Fantasy Convention, but you can of course find it on Amazon.