Saturday, November 5, 2011

Indie Book Review: A Heart In Sun and Shadow

I'd like to make a confession. Previous to reading this book I had never had a genuine WTF?!? moment. Oh, I've run into things that made absolutely no sense to me.  I'd had experiences where, when talking about them later, I described them as a WTF moment.  But, previous to reading this book, I had never, ever run into something where upon reading it, I actually said, out loud, What the fuck?

Then I read A Heart In Sun and Shadow.

Imagine if you will: I'm sitting in a very crowded Panera, enjoying a lunch of French Onion soup and a baguette.  It's so busy I'm sharing my table with a very sweet old lady.  We've had a bit of nice conversation about my netbook, and how I read books on it to review.  I'm happily reading along, not a single clue that this bomb is coming at me, and then I get to the part where the book turns upside down. Then: What the fuck? And, I say it, out loud.  I didn't realize I had done it until the very sweet old lady begs my pardon.  I blush, swallow my tongue, apologize, and then explain what I just read.  I get the sense she didn't disagree with my assessment, even if she wasn't a fan of my language.

Before I hit the WTF moment, the review I had been writing in my head looked something like this: A Heart in Sun and Shadow is a sweet, gentle romance set in an ancient Wales that never was.  It's the tale of Aine, a wisewoman who falls in love with cursed twin brothers and sets off to free them.  Her adventures deepen her love of them and tests her resolve.  I was planning on writing about how I wasn't entirely sure if this was a YA book or not.  How the writing was a easy and a bit shallow, but the love story is unconventional enough that it's not an easy YA fit.  I was planning on discussing fantasy romance and the tradition of the lovers quest.

That's what I had been planning on writing. 

The sweet and gentle nature of this story is part of why the WTF moment was so shocking.  The fact that it's not even remotely foreshadowed is another reason.

Now, I'm going to tread into major spoiler territory here.  Aine is a wisewoman.  Think of her as a traveling witch/healer.  Her entire code of ethics is help when and where you can and do no harm.  She hunts down the Fairy that cursed her lovers.  Upon finding her, Seren, the Fairy, sends Aine on a series of increasingly difficult tasks in order to collect the tidbits necessary to break the enchantment.  On her travels Aine gets an iron blade that can kill Fey folk, and she learns that she can break a curse by killing the person who cast it.  She also learns that Seren is bound to her grove, and cannot leave it for long periods of time.

She returns to Seren, blade among her things, and allows Seren sends her on one last task.  She has to collect the tears of a tree.  The only way to make the tree cry is to kill it's children.  No, not baby trees.  Child sprites dancing about in the forest.  Child sprites that heal her wounds.  Child sprites that invite her to dance with her.  Imagine three perfect magical symbols of innocence.

So, here's the moment of truth.  Murder the kiddies, collect the tears, give them to the Lady that cursed her lovers, and hope that she really does free them.  (And hope it is, because none of us are certain if Seren is on the up and up.)  Kill the Lady, free her lovers, but if she does that she cannot leave the Fey realm for any extended length of time.  Or go home, tell her loves she tried, but couldn't do it, and live with them.

So, I'm expecting her to kill the Lady, tell her boys what happened, and the three of them live happily ever after in the realm of the Fey.  I'm expecting this because it's in character.  I'm expecting this because the moral framework Aine embraces would lead her in this direction.  Which is why, when she murders the sleeping child sprites, I said, "What the fuck?" out loud.

Sloppy moral thinking is my number one pet peeve in a book.  Breaking character is a close runner up.  This one nailed both.  It's not like there was a gradual, creeping acceptance of moral compromise here.  It's not like she's slowly inching toward this decision.  It's not like she's in an absolute frothing rage when she does it.  She didn't just suddenly find out the children killed her mother or something like that.  She's dancing with them. They get tired and go to sleep. While they slumber, she decides dead fairy kids are worth her getting to go back to her boys for a bit of happily ever after, so she slits their throats.

She bought her happiness with three child corpses.

And at that point I lost any sympathy or interest in Aine.  I finished the book.  There was only 20% of it left, but I was deeply tempted to just put it down.  The hope that there would be some sort of justice or comeuppance or something kept me reading.  It's not there.

Aine and one of the twins turn out to be utterly despicable.  This is not a cute and sweet little romance.  These are deeply greedy people, willing to destroy anyone around them to secure their own happiness.  And they get to ride off into the sunset of happily ever after.  Yeah, maybe in real life you can step over the corpses of the innocent to a life of joy, but part of why people read fiction is because they want some sort of justice.  This was an infuriating and deeply unsatisfying read, all the more so because the first 80% of it is just fine.  A little light maybe, but the story works, is interesting, and fun to read.  Then it suddenly goes way off the rails and I was left wanting to smack Aine upside the head with a two by four.

On Goodreads one star means did not like it.  I'll leave it there.  Though I hated what the characters did and became, most of the book is soundly written, so I can't say I hated the book.  But I really didn't like it.


  1. Ouch. That is seriously headscratching. Did the author really think that the reader would think cold-blooded mass murder was a charming character trait? Sometimes you just gotta wonder what someone is thinking. Trying for a bit of darkness, I can definitely see, but you foreshadow it and put something like that into the characterization, at least a hint that the character is capable of that. Whew.

  2. I followed your twitter link here just to see what was worthy of a single star. Yikes! Your review was entertaining and well-written and I felt like you read the book so I didn't have to.