“When Princess Hette refuses a sorcerer’s proposal, he retaliates by stealing her heart—literally.”
When Princess Hette refuses a sorcerer’s proposal, he retaliates by stealing her heart—literally.
Desperate to resist his influence, Hette makes herself emotionless, stifling all feelings until she can find her heart and win it back. Only Konrad, the despised Court Fool, knows where to find the sorcerer, and he has his own curse to battle.
Riddles and magic plague their path, including a memory stealing witch, an unbeatable knight, and a magic book that would as soon drown them as lead them to their destination. Yet, if Hette can’t find the sorcerer in time, her heart will be the least of her losses.
I didn’t think I was going to like Heartless Hette. I didn’t think I was going to finish it. And then I did…and I did. And you know what? By the end I was really glad this book ended up in my initial batch of #spfbo reads. As I write this I don’t know how much further it will get in the contest but for me at least it passed my initial round of cuts and I’m happy for my time spent with it.
I need to note something right up front because it impacted my initial and then later thoughts about the book. Heatless Hette is a twist on a fairy tale. Well, a twist on multiple fairy tales, but more on that later. I point this out for a couple of reasons. One, I’m not a huge fan of fairy tales or stories written like a fairy tale. I don’t hate them, I just don’t particularly like them or seek them out. But I thought to myself, “Hey I’ll give it a shot” even when I didn’t expect much. I’m glad I did because there was a fantastic story within those pages that warmed my heart a little.
Two, Heartless Hette is written like a fairy tale, especially in its early chapters. What I mean is that way in which action, events, and dialogue happen really quickly and seem a little forced because a fairy tale isn’t working on some deep narrative depth, but instead is driving toward some point or lesson and has to get there quick because usually they are not a novel length story. So, early on I was thinking, “this seems a little cheesy…stuff is happening way too quickly and easily.” And then I thought, “huh…maybe it’s intentional”, and I sat back and decided to go along for the ride. Once I did that the story and the characters really opened up to me and soon it read less like a true fairy tale and more like an adventure.
Hette, the Princess of Wurttemberg is an interesting character. Her heart has been literally stolen by a sorcerer and the nature of this curse (for lack of a better word) is that when she feels and shows emotion she more easily comes under his sway. So in response she has determined to use her mind to thwart her heart and retain control over herself. This becomes a distinct challenge as the story progresses because who are we as humans if we don’t have a “heart” or if we don’t show and express emotion? The other characters on the quest with Hette to find the sorcerer and win back her heart take up this challenge and it becomes a key element of the narrative, the determination to help her be her full person and to be the best ruler she can be because logic at the expense of feeling is detrimental to a future queen. This was my favorite element of the book, the quest within the quest so-to-speak, to not just take back Hette’s physical heart, but to ensure her emotional heart is strengthened and protected. As the journey progresses this theme keeps coming to the fore and we see some wonderful character development in Hette as she becomes a better person.
Heartless Hette also surprised me because when it reached the point where I thought the climax should occur (about the 50% mark) it shifted to Act III where the stakes get higher and the journey became much more difficult. I enjoyed this added depth to the narrative, how it helped explore the driving force of the antagonist, and the way it enabled me to experience and explore Hette’s character growth and development.
One aspect I wasn’t so sure about and I wondered how some readers would feel about it was the way in which Hette’s heart is stolen. The male sorcerer casts a spell on her and steals her heart as a means by which to force her to fall in love with him against her will. I know real fairy tales (I’m thinking the non-Disney versions, but often even those) have some dark tones and questionable tropes by modern standards and deserve critique. I don’t think the intention in Heartless Hette is to promote negative tropes but instead it seeks to show a strong character with a strong supporting cast overcoming evil in the world and learning valuable lessons about life and themselves in the process. That is what fairy tales are meant to do, and what Heartless Hette strives to do as well.
If you’re a fan of fairy tales you’ll find a lot to love in Heartless Hette as well because it’s sprinkled with many stories you’ll remember and some you may not know. It is itself a retelling of “The Princess Who Never Laughed” and I immediately picked up on references to “Sleeping Beauty”, “Hansel and Gretel”, and “Red Riding Hood”, but there were others I didn’t know (referenced at the end of the book if you’re curious). These tales are woven into the narrative so that they become part of Hette’s story as told by a traveling female bard in England. It’s filled with talking frogs, kobolds, magic books, and many other creatures out of childhood stories, but it isn’t a children’s story. I’d place it somewhere between YA and adult fantasy having elements of both but not solely in either camp.
Heartless Hette is actually the third book in the Hearth and Bard Tales series but you don’t have to read any of the preceding books to understand or follow along with what is happening. You can definitely pick it up and dive in without feeling you’ve missed something important.
There is little to say that Jason hasn’t already touched upon so I’ll echo some thoughts and otherwise leave his review to stand.
Heartless Hette is a fairy tale retelling without being any one specific fairy tale but rather an amalgamation of many. This greatly enhanced my experience with it, if it had been only one fairy tale retelling I think it wouldn’t have had the depth that it does.This isn’t my typical sub-genre and I only read it because Jason put it out to the team for a second opinion. To my surprise I tore through this book, it was so readable and the plot flowed in such a spectacular fashion and soon I was staying up past bedtime to finish it off. I remember finishing this book sitting in the dark reading by kindle (I know probably not good for the eyes and all), but I realized I had less than an hour left and I just had to keep going. The plot is so simple at its core, it’s a journey of retrieval but there were twists and turns galore on their journey. The prose is simple and readable which really allows the plot to flow so quickly. At times it reads more YA than Adult but as Jason mentioned it toes the line and falls into both camps.
Overall, this one deserves to advance to semi-finalist because it will appeal to a wide audience, it’s a quick fun read that is a great journey from start to finish.