“Bleak straightened herself; she wasn’t going to die for the king. She wasn’t going to become a prisoner or experiment of his. She’d rather die with salt water in her lungs and mist in her heart. She was free. She had to try.”
Hey, guys! I am back with a review for Heart of Mist by Helen Scheuerer! I found this book at random on Goodreads and downloaded it onto my e-reader right away. It sounded really cool and started out pretty strong. It did not quite live up to my expectations, but I am glad that I read it, nonetheless.
Spoilers under the cut!
So, the story is about a young orphan named Bleak. She is hiding a forbidden magical ability, and “copes” with it by getting drunk and trying to forget about it. That is until the king sends soldiers to summon her and her entire world is thrown off kilter by the following events. The book grabbed my attention right away and had a promising premise. Bleak seemed like an interesting character, because she was tough, not exactly pleasant, scrappy, and was clearly battling an addition. It is not often that you see Young Adult books touch on teen alcoholism, but that one did not shy away from it. The opening scene introduces a very hungover Bleak puking in the town square, so I was impressed that the author did not try to sugarcoat or romanticize that aspect of Bleak’s character.
However, any interest I initially had in Bleak and her struggle quickly wore off, to be replaced with annoyance. I am going to try to break down exactly what did not work for me with this book, because I feel like it had some good parts, it had some potentially solid characters, and a decent idea. But it did not work as a whole. Starting with Bleak.
Bleak (and her drinking): While I was intrigued by a young woman struggling with not only secret magical abilities, but also an alcohol addiction, it was ultimately not a satisfying plot device. Nothing productive came from it. Bleak was a rude, obnoxious, and selfish character, which can be fine if it is handled correctly, but she was just wholly unlikable. And her drinking soon became tedious to read about. It was an endless cycle of Bleak wanting a drink, Bleak getting a drink, Bleak screwing something up, and Bleak wanting a drink. Now I understand that this is an accurate portrayal of the consequences of alcoholism, but nothing was actually resolved! Bleak screwed up, but not to the point that she actually cared, or others cared. People knew she was a drunk and didn’t care or try to help her. Bleak never even seemed to suffer the real effects of withdrawal, just had some convenient “vision fits” every now and then. Overall, it was monotonous and tiresome to read. It did not make me sympathize with Bleak and really, it read like a character trait just tacked on for pizzazz. Like hmm, what can make her unique and different, even though she is like every other YA protagonist with hidden powers…let’s make her get drunk all the time! Not exactly handled well. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The dialogue: This may have bothered me more than it will others, because it is a pet peeve of mine, but why the hell would you go through all the trouble of writing a high fantasy world set in some quasi-medieval time period, just to have your characters talk like bratty millennials? It is so jarring and just screams amateur writing. Like when the Commander of the King’s army, some supposedly powerful and scary dude, responds to a challenge with, “Watch me.” That just sounds wrong. Along with, “Where’s your team spirit?” “Give a pauper a bone, would you?” “Guests don’t stay long at a pity party,” “Not funny,” and many more. Honestly, that was just in the first 13% of the book. And, when the dialogue did not resemble a modern teen drama, it was very stilted and unrealistic. It never felt smooth or natural.
The pacing: The story got off to a fast start and I was totally on board with where it was headed (even if I did not yet understand everything), but after the initial couple chapters, the pacing began to feel really off. It started out too fast and failed to really give background information on some very important things like the characters, the world-building, the magic system, and the political network. None of that was explained to us, and all we knew was that this girl Bleak had magic and was now being taken to the king. And then, once Bleak got “rescued” by the Valians, the whole story just came to a lagging halt. The entire middle of the book was so boring. Nearly nothing happens for hundreds of pages and not only are we stuck with Bleak and her bland as hell thoughts, we are then subjected to the Commander’s, the leader of the Valians Henri’s, and some random kid from the castle Dash’s thoughts. What?? Why?? None of these characters were interesting enough to warrant their own POVs and really, the information they gave us did little to further the plot. It was all just way too slow. The whole thing crawled along until the very end, when there was a bit more action. At that point, though, I did not care anymore what was happening.
The characters: Again, the characters were not interesting enough, their perspectives were not distinct enough, and I did not connect with a single one of them. No one was likable in this book, even the ones that were being shoved down our throats as “good” people. Bleh.
The writing: The writing had a lot of great potential, but overall, felt quite juvenile and amateurish. The majority of writing we were given was telling us about things, not showing us. I know this is a cliche critique, but it is honestly so important. We were told how characters felt and what they were doing and what they were thinking and what we should be thinking about them, etc. etc. That does not create a mature, evolved reading experience. The structure of the book itself felt very loose and not quite together. There was no sense of urgency in the plot, which really didn’t make me want to keep reading.
I guess this book just did not click with me. I think it started with a great idea and the author has real potential, but this one needed some more work. I might pick up the sequel when it comes out, but I certainly won’t be rushing.
What did you guys think?
Happy reading, loves!