Heart Thief, by Robin D. Owens

29 Jan

Heart ThiefA while back I wrote a short piece on how I can be a devoted fan of a specific series by an author and have no interest whatsoever in the rest of their work. This is the case with Ms Owens. I really, really enjoy her Heart/Celta books. I find the series as a whole—or at least as far as I’ve read, I think I’m a couple of books behind—wonderful and refreshing, for many reasons. And yet, I have never felt any interest in trying her other work. Your mileage, obviously, may vary.

Which brings me to…

Despite being a fan of the world and the novels, I am also aware that this is not a series that should be glommed. In fact, two books straight is my limit. Why? Because there are some writing mannerisms that start getting on my nerves as soon as I start on a third novel in a row. And here again, your mileage may vary.

Now, on with the actual review.

~ * ~

Heart Thief, by Robin D. Owens

This is only the second of the Celta novels and also only Ms Owens’ second published book. The world building is very consistent with what we learn in HeartMate, but the whole concept of fated mates (one SLWendy so despises¹) is explored from a completely different direction. Heart Thief is one of my favorites in the series so far.

Okay, I’m again getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the much hated blurb:

Ruis Elder never asked for his unusual trait—the ability to neutralize others’ psychic talents. Because of it, he has always been hated in his own homeland, destined to roam the harsh planet alone. But trouble finds him in front of the ruling Council—and face-to-face with the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. There’s only one problem: Ailim is in the opposite side of the bench…

Ailim has never before felt such passion coursing through her as she feels in Ruis’s presence. And she never thought she would—at least not with a man so far beneath her station, a man who does not even have psychic powers. Separately, Ailim and Ruis most forgo their old lives. But together, they can take on the world…

Got it? Now please dismiss it from your mind, as it’s utter rubbish, focusing on exactly the wrong things.

For those who haven’t read HeartMate, or heard anything about the series, a quick overview: about four centuries before HeartMate (and not even a year before Heart Thief), humans with psi powers left Earth, trying to both escape a world that labeled them mutants and sought to exterminate them, and to find a new place where they could flourish, creating their own culture. In the intervening centuries, those nascent powers have grown and evolved, to the point where even the least gifted have at least some Flair—psi talent—that allows them to operate the most basic of spells, such as light or fire.

The hierarchy of this culture revolves around the strength of a person’s Flair, which usually follows family lines (good old DNA). The oldest lines tend to have the strongest individuals—and in fact, the head of each Family chooses his/her heir based on the strength of that person’s Flair, often at birth. The heir is trained all of his/her life to guide and protect the Family, to ensure its prosperity during his/her tenure, and to foster increases in Flair in the future generations.

However, things don’t always follow this neat plan. Occasionally, as we saw in HeartMate with Danith Mallow, an individual from a heretofore insignificant line grows into great Flair—and occasionally, the FirstSon of a Great FirstFamily is born a Null.

Ruis Elder has no traditional Flair. He cannot light a match or open a door by using a Word. This is bad enough, and would relegate him to eking out a living as a hand laborer somewhere. Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Ruis is a Null—his mere presence negates spells whenever he remains in one place more than a few minutes. His Nullness is so strong that his Family disowned him in childhood, relegating him to a far corner of the main estate, cared for by one of the least gifted, distant relatives in the extended family.

In time, Ruis escapes this desolate and isolated existence. Unfortunately, there is no place for him in Celtan society—not when his very presence threatens the fabric of the culture. And so, persecuted simply because he exists, he soon turns to thievery. First, to survive, later to feed his passion: the restoration of ancient Earth machines. Being a thief, and one who had a run-in with T’Ash, would be reason enough for the Guardsmen of Druida (the capital of the known Celta) to be on the lookout for him. However, there are other forces at play.

Soon we find Ruis judged by the FirstFamilies Council. He expects a death sentence, but the Council is swayed into only banishing him from all Celtan cities and into the unexplored wildness. (Pretty certain to result in his death, if you ask me, but a way for the powerful to keep their hands clean, á la Pilates).

Ailim SilverFir, current head of her Family, is also being judged by the FirstFamilies. For the last several decades, her Family has been hemorrhaging gilt, and now desperate measures must be taken if the integrity of the Family is to be preserved.1 Desperate, Ailim is requesting a substantial loan from the FirstFamilies, and is willing to submit to the, doubtless less than pleasant, conditions that will come with it. The members of the Family sharing the Residence with her are less flexible, though, and are pretty determined to make Ailim’s life miserable in protest.

Most of us would shrug the issue and go on, but Ailim is a telempath, and no matter how good her shields, the sheer effort of blocking the thoughts and feelings of every single living being around her is exhausting under normal circumstances. Trying to block and, failing that, withstand the virulence constantly directed at her in her own living space is slowly affecting Ailim’s health. As D’SilverFir, head of the Family and responsible for the wellbeing of even these individuals who so wish her ill, there aren’t all that many options open to Ailim at the moment, though.

Once these two characters meet, we are off to the races.

Ruis’ Nullness means that Ailim’s mind is quiet, that the only thoughts she perceives are her own. That her consciousness is free to explore the world around her, on her own terms. It also means that she not only accepts his presence, she craves it. Ailim’s acceptance means…well, pretty much everything to Ruis. For the first time in all of his life, another human being is comfortable in his presence. For the first time, his existence and his singularity are appreciated—he is not just tolerated but enjoyed by Ailim.

Obviously, there are a couple of flies in the ointment.

One, Ruis is banned from all cities—particularly Druida. If he is ever found within a city, his trespass is to be punished by death. Ailim lives in Druida.

Two, Ruis is a criminal. Any and all association with him is, obviously, also criminal in nature. Ailim is the SupremeJudge of all Celta.

There is plenty of external conflict right there, but it’s the internal conflict within each of these two—particularly Ruis—that truly sells the story for me.

Ruis is a very angry man. With reason, goes without saying, but angry enough not to care about himself. This makes it a little hard to develop any sort of relationship with any other living thing. Up until meeting Ailim, the only things Ruis has ever invested feelings in, are the broken and often irreparable Earth machines he collects and tries to fix. Not being magical but fully technological, his Nullness means nothing to this endeavour. Ailim’s very presence, her generosity and acceptance, her willingness to risk everything that matters to her—her career, her position in society and even within her own Family—for him, challenges all he’s ever felt.

He soon understands that he must change, grow out of his own rage, and if not fully forgive, at least forget—live and let the objects of his hatred live. However, between understanding and actually living that truth, there’s an often rocky path. He has been an outcast, actively despised, for too long. Too many people fear and hate him, considering him less than human for his Nullness. And then, there is his later father’s brother, Bucus, current head of the Elder Family and for too long the bane of Ruis’ existence.

Ruis knows that what he feels for Ailim is all abiding love, but what can he offer her? Stolen moments fraught with the very real risk of discovery, with terrible consequences for her. She deserves so much more. She deserves a man of equal rank, respectable, honorable, a man who can openly love her—she deserves to find her own HeartMate.

In comparison, Ailim’s personal journey is…less. As a Judge, she is devoted to justice as more than a nebulous concept. When dealing with matters of law, her strength is something pretty fearsome. When dealing with her own family? Gah. Seriously, there are a few times when I’ve growled, “grow a fucking spine already!” when reading this book. Now, her conflict regarding what she feels for Ruis, what she knows of the legality of his current circumstances, and the likely consequences to her should their relationship be known? That is interesting to me. It takes her a while to stop denying that she is, in fact, betraying her own vows as a Judge in order to a) be with Ruis and b) vindicate him, but once that happens she’s all there.

Going by what I’ve written so far (and gah, but this is long, innit?) you would be forgiven to think the story develops pretty much in a vacuum. Nothing further from the truth: there is a healthy number of secondary storylines. For example, we have the ancient Spaceship, Nuada’s Sword, which brought the first colonists to the planet. We have yet another sentient cat—Ruis’ Fam, Samba, daughter of T’Ash’s familiar Zanth and one of the Hollys hunting cats. We have the complexity of Celtan society and it’s changing mores.

Finally, we have Ruis’ actual birth status and the actions of his eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil uncle Bucus.

Here is where I struggle with the story. I feel that Ruis’ circumstances were difficult enough without adding a deranged and pretty clichéd villain to the story—frankly, once disowned by the Elder Family, the rest of Ruis’ life would have followed pretty much the same path as it does as written. Adding Bucus’ greed/madness/eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil felt too much like a plot device, put there to intensify a conflict that was pretty damn intense on its own.

Still, the love story is very satisfying, the character growth is believable, and there is a sweet—if short—grovel session at the end. Couple this with complex and internally consistent world building, and what more can this reader ask?

HeartThief also gets 8.50 out of 10.

~ * ~

¹ So speaketh the Queen Librarian of the Universe: “I despise “soul mates,” “fated to be mated” and all that nonsense. Color me crazy, but free will is pretty darn sexy. I need the heroine to have some semblance of a “choice,” even if all the choices she has stink like 3-week-old fish left rotting in the sun.”

² I love that there is actually a throwaway hint of this development in HeartMate—a mention that the SilverFir Residence and estate may be for sale. One line, is the set up for Ailim’s main problems and part of the external conflict in Heart Thief.

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2 Responses to “Heart Thief, by Robin D. Owens”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Heart Search, by Robin D Owens | Her Hands, My Hands - 30/01/2015

    […] of HeartMate, the first book in the Celta series, and I wrote the review for the second novel, Heart Thief, just a year […]

  2. Five Books Everyone Should Read, at the Book Binge | Her Hands, My Hands - 26/07/2015

    […] Heart Thief, by Robin D Owens […]

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