Heart Search, by Robin D Owens

30 Jan

Heart SearchIt’s been over five years since I wrote my review of HeartMate, the first book in the Celta series, and I wrote the review for the second novel, Heart Thief, just a year ago.

Honestly, I don’t quite know why that is, as I am still a fan of the series, as I commented in this review of Heart Fire over at The Book Binge (though admittedly not as ardent as I once was).

However, life and my reading and reviewing being what they are, it’s unlikely I’ll review all the books in the series, so I’m jumping to the most recent title I actually own.

Heart Search, by Robin D Owens

For starters, I strongly suggest that you don’t start reading the series with this book. Not so much because it’s not the best example of the series (more on this below),  but because the world building is key to character motivation and growth.

Celtan culture is complex, so if you don’t understand the cultural and political pressures the characters operate under, a lot of what they do, and most of what they feel and think, will seem contrived.

Further, and taking into account that Heart Search is the tenth title in the series,¹ the cast of characters from previous books who make an appearance–and actually have speaking parts–is fairly long. So while there is some sequel baiting, a lot of the setup for this story is rooted on events that happened some fifteen years before the book actually starts.

Here’s the dreaded back over blurb from my print copy:

On the faraway planet Celta, there are some things you can seek forever–but what you find may surprise you in your Heart Search…

Laev T’Hawthorn–one of the highest nobles of the land–must rebuild his life after a devastating mistake. He married a woman he believe was his HeartMate, only to learn she was a greedy social climber. She callously used him, stealing his Family heirlooms. He is determined to reclaim all he has lost–beginning with his self-respect.

Abandoned at fifteen, Camellia Darjeeling values her independence above all. She’s fought to establish her own businesses–elegant tearooms–only to have her father and uncle reenter her life to emotionally scourge her and extort money. For Camellia, trusting men, even her HeartMate, is too risky.

When Laev and Camellia meet, they refuse to acknowledge that they are true HeartMates. After her shady relations are implicated in the theft of Laev’s property, Camellia’s and Laev’s lives become ever more entangled, bringing each to the brink of despair and passion…and a destiny they can no longer avoid.

As usual, you can ignore most of that.

If against my advice, you are new to the series, here’s a quick summary of the world building so far:

  • Celta is an Earth-like planet which was colonized by humans some four hundred plus years ago. The crews in the three spaceships which originally comprised the expedition were mainly regular people. However, the people sponsoring and leading it were not. They had some degree of paranormal abilities–psi power.
  • The culture in Celta has a strong affinity with Wicca as far as religion goes, but society is highly stratified. The higher the rank, the higher the wealth, and social and fiscal responsibility increase as well.
  • Rank depends on a number of factors, but birth almost always determines most of it. Generally speaking, those who can trace their lineage to the officers of the original crews form the highest echelons of society. They belong to the First Families and tend to have stronger Flair (current common name for psi power), while descendants from the regular crew may have little to no Flair.
  • There is a certain flexibility in rank depending on other abilities, and occasionally people from the First Families have little Flair, and vice versa, but this is the basis for social interactions.
  • Religion is very important in Celta. People are expected to take part in specific rituals at least a certain number of times per month. While blasphemy is not a crime per se, it does carry heavy social consequences.
  • HeartMates, people who are born to bond with each other, are a tenet of society, even if only those with great Flair (i.e., higher rank) are likely to actually find each other. I would say that this is so because Flair is necessary to see and feel the bond, not because it doesn’t exist for the less Flaired, though this has not been explored so far in the series.
  • Passages are emotional, physical and magical crises that happen generally three times in a lifetime. The first is usually at about seven, the second at seventeen, and the third and last at twenty-seven. On extremely rare occasions, a person can go through two or all three at once.
  • Second and Third Passages include a highly intense sexual connection between HeartMates, whether they have met or not.

Now, on to this book.

In his mid-thirties, Laev has finally become head of his Family, on the death of his beloved if stern grandfather a few months prior. Early in his life, Laev made some pretty spectacular mistakes for which he has spent many years atoning.

At barely sixteen he managed to grievously wound a GreatLady, the HeartMate of a FirstFamily lord.² Not too much later, during his Second Passage, he believed he had found his HeartMate and married the girl in question in short order.³ Turns out he had fixated on the wrong girl, who proceeded to make his life miserable, and to embarrass the Family as a whole. His wife Nivea has since died, and Laev is currently trying to restore some of his pride by recovering a number of heirlooms she ‘stole’ from the Hawthorn Residence.

Laev’s mistake regarding his wife was not just the product of teenage hormones gone haywire, his HeartMate was in fact present when he and Nivea met, only she was a child at the time and therefore unaware of him and the bond between them.

For her part, Camellia has spent the last twenty years or so trying to get out from under the blight that is her own family. Her father, an abusive asshole and career petty criminal, had abandoned them when Camellia was barely twelve. Her mother, we gather, was pretty much useless, and her brother (older? younger? I don’t believe we ever know) is an artsy type who pretends there has never been anything wrong about their father’s past and current abuse.

It’s true that, at barely fourteen, she managed to put together a legal case and claim salvaged property for her own, in part due to her father’s abandonment. The gilt (money) from the treasure eventually allowed her to open a tea house. As the novels starts, Camellia has just opened a second one. It is also true that she is keeping a secret with potentially negative consequences, but business is good, and her life is in order.

Until her father and his brother show up again, that is.

Things happen that lead Laev to meet Camellia again, and while she is aware from the beginning that they are HeartMates, he doesn’t. Further, neither of them want to acknowledge any such link, let alone actually bond. He, because living with a woman who didn’t love him and married him for rank and wealth caused him and those he loves no end of grief. She, because years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her father and uncle mean she doesn’t trust men easily.

There is plenty of potential conflict here.

At minimum, we have the fact that when Camellia had her own Passages, Laev turned to Nivea to assuage the attendant sexual hunger. Since everyone knows Nivea was not his HeartMate, once it become know that Camellia is, everyone will be aware that, as far as this culture goes, Laev cheated on her. Even without the public component, Camellia knows this.

The groveling to make up for this would have had to be epic. Epic, I tell you.

Then there is the difference in rank and Flair. Whether or not they are HeartMates, I feel Laev would be justified being leery of a woman who would so greatly benefit from marrying him.

At the very least, I would expect him to take a good long time to get to know Camellia before even acknowledging the HeartMate thing to himself, let alone to her.

And that is without even touching on the missing Heart Gift, which Laev made for Camellia, as we now know, but which he gave to Nivea, who apparently disposed of it somewhere, somehow.

Finally, there is Camellia’s secret, with all the legal, social and political consequences it would bring, should the truth about her lineage ever become known.

I would have been a very happy camper if the novel has centered on any of these. Sadly, while these threads are all touched upon, none of them are fully developed. Instead, the climax of the story hinges on two side plots and a handful of two-dimensional, cartoon villains.

First we have Camellia’s father and uncle. It’s not enough that they are misogynistic abusive assholes. No, they have to be psychopaths who would just as soon destroy her things as steal them. Look, I get they want to cause her pain, so shaking her, hitting her, I get that. But breaking something they could sell for a good bit of money just so she’ll cry? C’mon.

Then there is the utter vilification of Nivea. Yes, it’s pretty clear from the meet cute (however many books ago) that she knew they were not HeartMates and married him for his wealth and rank. It was not necessary to also make her a cold and vindictive bitch, who not only cheated on Laev, but who also took pleasure on taking valued Family heirlooms and disposing of them in ways that ensured it would be difficult–if not impossible–to find them.

Mind you, Ms Owens has written about a couple who married even though they were not HeartMates,4 and not only was the woman in question not vilified, but she eventually got her own happy ending. A shorter story, it’s true, but still.

Then we have the fourth and last villain, who shows up out of the blue well after the novel’s mid point. His actions and motivations are…well, stupid and contrived, but it’s the fact that he shows up on page when he does that had me growling at the book. That scene resembled nothing more than a horror movie where the killer pops back up after a grenade blew the top of his head off.

Other complaints include a bit of repetition regarding the world building, particularly what HeartMates and the Heart Bond are. Mind you, I understand having to at least mention this in case the reader is coming in cold to the series, but three times in the first chapter, and then twice more later on in the book? While a number of other things intrinsic to the culture–teleportation, Fams, telepathy, scrying, etc.–are never explained? It does feel like at some point there was an editing issue.

Where does this all leave me? Well, not very happy. I will probably get the rest of the books that are out at some point–I do want to know what happens to a number of the characters who have been part of the series for at least five books, after all–but I am not in any great hurry.

Heart Search gets a 7.00 out of 10

 *

¹ Sorta? There’s a one author anthology, Hearts and Swords, which was released the same year but three months after this book. The events in “Noble Heart” in that anthology occur before Heart Search starts.

² This happens in Heart Duel, the third novel.

³ This happens in Heart Change, the eighth novel.

4 This happens in Heart Fate, the seventh novel.

(Nota bene: the author’s website doesn’t currently show the full list of books, so here’s a link to her page on FantasticFiction)

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15 Responses to “Heart Search, by Robin D Owens”

  1. cranberrytarts 30/01/2015 at 10:27 AM #

    I can’t remember if I reviewed this, but I know I shared similar concerns and frustrations. The second generation of Celtans hasn’t worked as well for me as the first, which is frustrating since I adore this world. I hoped for more from Laev.

    While the world continues to delight and fascinate, I think Ms. Owens needs to either refresh it in some way, or *gulp*, retire it.

    Of course I say that as I already crave the next book. The last did renew my interest somewhat (Antenn!), but I feel the series has become a source of nostalgia for current fans, rather than an exciting adventure for new ones.

    • azteclady 30/01/2015 at 10:44 AM #

      Oh man, this:

      I feel the series has become a source of nostalgia for current fans, rather than an exciting adventure for new ones

      is exactly how I feel!

      On the one hand, I want more of this world; on the other…well, better to end on the highest note possible, yes?

  2. cranberrytarts 30/01/2015 at 10:29 AM #

    Please tell me you have comment moderation on and that long comment I just posted didn’t disappear into the ether?

    • azteclady 30/01/2015 at 10:45 AM #

      Oh. Sorry ’bout that.

      • cranberrytarts 30/01/2015 at 10:51 AM #

        No worries. I only just had a heart attack. No big deal. 😉

        LIke my comment was so important. ..ha.

      • azteclady 30/01/2015 at 11:01 AM #

        😛

  3. bamaclm 30/01/2015 at 8:56 PM #

    I’m pretty sure I had one of these books (probably the first one) in paperback before e was available. I remember the term heartmates; what I can’t remember is the plot or whether I finished the book, something I must discover. 😉 Because it’s what I do, and there’s nothing better than discovering a new series. 😀

    • azteclady 30/01/2015 at 8:58 PM #

      Oh I hope you find it–I reviewed HeartMate here, and honestly, it remains my all time favorite in the series. Discovering the world of Celta was such a wonderful experience, it felt so fresh and organic.

  4. cranberrytarts 30/01/2015 at 9:18 PM #

    To be honest, book 7, Heart Fate, is my favorite. I feel like Owens had really found her stride by then. The world is wonderful even in the early books, but she really smoothed things out around book 6. Plus, I just really liked Tinne, Lashin (sp?) and, most of all, First Grove.

    • azteclady 30/01/2015 at 9:25 PM #

      Oh, that one is really good too! I really like First Grove as well, and how Lahsin grows so much through the book, but I confess I really didn’t like how the villain was written.

      Just like Ruis Elder’s uncle, Bucus, here we have a cartoonish villain–and don’t get me started on his daughter.

      • cranberrytarts 30/01/2015 at 9:40 PM #

        I confess I really didn’t like how the villain was written.

        I remember very little about the victim. That’s telling, I think.

        SPOILER

        (It was her husband?)

        End Spoiler

      • azteclady 30/01/2015 at 9:44 PM #

        (yes)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Heart Change, by Robin D Owens | Her Hands, My Hands - 25/02/2015

    […] she reviewed Heart Fire here, and then I reviewed Heart Search here, and there was reminiscing in the comments to that review, and of course I had to come back and […]

  2. Heart Fate, by Robin D Owens | Her Hands, My Hands - 21/03/2015

    […] is the seventh book in the Heart/Celta books, and rightfully one of both Holly’s and my favorites. Both main characters are very likable, well fleshed out, and grow a lot through […]

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

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

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