(Color me flabbergasted–this was supposed to post on Friday, but didn’t. In fact, it wasn’t anywhere in the blog. So I had to wait until I could access the original file at home, copy it and schedule it again. It’s not technology, it’s the user–I know 😉 )
Reader beware: there is past physical and sexual violence against the heroine starting when she was only fourteen, as well as references to a miscarriage. Also, the setup for this novel depends so heavily on events from the previous books–particularly the male protagonist’s current situation, which fuels the conflict between him and the heroine–that spoilers for those novels cannot be avoided when reviewing this one. Consider yourself warned.
Heart Fate, by Robin D Owens
This 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 the story. The setting is wonderful in many ways, and some of the secondary characters are fantastic in their own right (Strother, I’m looking at you).
The worldbuiling in this series is unusual and specific enough to make coming into it cold at this point a rather dicey proposition. I strongly recommend starting at the beginning, with HeartMate. If you want to start here regardless, do yourself a favor and read the primer for the series that I wrote after the blurb in this review.
Without any further ado, here’s the blurb:
Wed to a wealthy older man when she was just a girl, Lahsin Yew runs away from her abusive home to find a new life. At seventeen, she’s about to enter her Second Passage, when her Flair–and perhaps her HeartMate–will be revealed.
Lahsin finds sanctuary in a secret garden, where she meets Tinne Holly. Though he is her HeartMate, he cannot tell her, and her troubled past prevents her from trusting any man. Pretending to find her by chance, Tinne helps her through her Second Passage. But when the truth is revealed, can she forgive his deception, and learn to trust in her destiny?
In Celta, people are considered adults around seventeen. For those with sufficient Flair, this is the time when Second Passage–which reveals both the strength and the type of psi power a person has, as well as connects a person to her HeartMate–hits.
Lahsin, neé Burdock, was basically sold by her Family to T’Yew when she was fourteen. Now that she’s about to become an adult, she hopes to be able to nullify the travesty that was her marriage. From what she has gleaned from an old volume in the Yew Library, she can do that if, once she is an adult, she repudiates her marriage to three uninvolved witnesses. The only problem? Lahsin has been kept mostly isolated–short of a prisoner, really–and is deathly afraid that whomever she happens to trust will return her to T’Yew.
As she flees, she stumbles upon an honorable man, and despite her fear and mistrusts, his words lead her to a haven, a refuge, a secret place: First Grove, the original healing and magical garden planted by the colonists when they build the city. Abandoned for generations and hidden to most of the inhabitants of Druida, First Grove remains true to its first purpose, providing refuge for the desperate, the hopeless, and those whose very souls are but an open wound.
Once First Grove admits her, Lahsin hopes that she’ll be able to survive there through the winter, to ride Passage there, and to emerge stronger both in Flair and confidence, ready to face life on her own terms.
Tinne Holly is the second son of a First Family, one of the highest of the land. Several years earlier, during the time covered by Heart Duel (his older brother Holm’s story), there was a lot of turmoil in the family. Because Tinne knew even then that his HeartMate had already been married to another (more on this below), he marries Genista Furze. He likes her, desires her, and believes they are compatible enough to have a good, happy life together.
And for a time it seems Tinne’s gamble paid off, until his father’s actions have tragic consequences. See, GreatLord Holly had broken his vow of honor to his eldest son, which brought not just dishonor to the family, but also bad luck. In Tinne’s and Genista’s case, it means that she suffered a miscarriage. Though they try to keep up the appearance of it, both of them know that the marriage did not survive the loss of their baby, and in the current timeline, Genista has finally gotten to the point where she takes charge of her future. She petitions for a divorce.
In Celtan society, marriage is a very serious thing. Divorce is not impossible in general, but for the highest echelons of society is might as well be. Most unhappy couples among the First Families and other high ranking Nobles simply live apart from each other. Genista is not about to do that. She needs a clean break to heal, and by all that’s sacred, she’ll have it.
The normal process to obtain a divorce is harsh, but for a Noble couple it is particularly harrowing. Once it’s done, Tinne is left feeling incredibly fragile and, frankly, broken and hopeless.
Which means that he also finds his way to First Grove–and to Lahsin.
Tinne is just a little over a decade older than Lahsin. Throughout his marriage, he kept his bond/awareness of her to a thin, almost non-existent thread, both out of respect and, yes, love for Genista, and because Lahsin was out of his reach anyway. Why be miserable, right?
Now, Tinne is meeting his HeartMate for the first time, and learning all that she suffered at the hands of T’Yew (and his whole Family) during the three years of her marriage. By law, he cannot tell Lahsin they are HeartMates, but he wouldn’t anyway–he’s still too raw and hurt by the loss of his child and the failure of his marriage to even contemplate another relationship.
Let alone one as demanding and all-encompassing as a Heart Bond.
This doesn’t mean that Lahsin’s pain doesn’t wound him, so he decides to try and help her. He will be there for her not only during her Passage, but also teach her to defend herself if any man would try to harm her, as well as help her gain confidence in herself.
Of course, it’s not as easy as all that.
Among several other things, Lahsin fear of being returned to T’Yew is not unfounded. Tinne’s healing is not as straightforward as he would prefer, and Passage demands a deeper intimacy than either is ready for.
For the most part, this is an intimate, quiet story about two very wounded people who have a lot to overcome and who help each other heal, healing themselves in the process. The progress of their relationship is slow, which is very fitting for their circumstances and their personalities. There are some lovely scenes between them that really showcase how right they are for each other even as they both change and grow into more mature versions of themselves.
There are number of secondary characters in the book that I really enjoyed. One I mentioned above is Strother.
Strother happens to be a feral dog, which is a huge rarity in Celta, as there are very few dogs around. Lame and starving, he’s also taken refuge in First Grove, and his dire circumstances tug at Lahsin’s heartstrings, to the point where the spends some of her flagging energy taking care of him. This generosity is eventually acknowledge and reciprocated, and Strother becomes her Fam.
Another secondary character that is fantastic is…BalmHeal Residence.
BalmHeal were the FirstFamily that took care of First Grove until they died out, long ago. Abandoned and lonely, almost devoid of energy even for basic maintenance spells, the living Residence has developed–or devolved, depending on your point of view–into a crotchety, curmudgeonly, ungrateful and ungracious presence that resents all of those who find refuge in First Grove.
After all, they come, they heal, they leave–and they never come back.
The main strengths in Ms Owens Celta books are the world-building–appealing and complex–and the characterizations.
I love that there’s more than lip service paid to the whole “Residences as sentient, living beings.” They have personalities, which often reflect the family from which each Residence became, but they are still uniquely themselves. The Fams–or familiars–are not as consistently written across the novels, but still the concept is carried out well through the series. In this book, both Strother and Ilexa, Tinne’s Fam, have very distinct and interesting personalities.
As for characterization, Ms Owens’ protagonists are always fully fleshed out, and many of the secondary characters are very memorable even when they show up for one short scene or two (in this case, Cratag Maytree). And I cannot tell you how incredibly happy it makes me that Genista was never, ever, demonized. She was written as a good, nice woman struggling with terrible pain, one who is strong enough to take the road less traveled and face all the obstacles therein, in order to free both herself and Tinne, so that they each may have a future worth living.
I liked that Lahsin was young and it showed, without making her stupid. The trauma in her past and its effect on her development is portrayed realistically, and she’s likable and kind, and overall a nice person, but she’s not a doormat. Her interactions with BalmHeal Residence and Strother show her growth as the story progresses in subtle yet significant ways.
Tinne’s struggles with his own issues, and his realization that not all of his issues stem from his Father’s broken vow of honor, are also very well done. His depression, which is not magically cured simply by spending time with Lahsin, feels so viscerally real, I hurt with him as he comes to terms with the finality of his divorce, and finally lets go of Genista, and their baby.
Unfortunately, this book does not escape what I consider Ms Owens’ greatest weakness: the cartoon villains.
Not only is T’Yew old enough for his FirstDaughter to be old enough to be Lahsin’s mother. Not only is he a pedophile (she was fourteen!!!!). He’s also a sadist who has tortured Lahsin both physically and mentally for the duration of her marriage.
The aforementioned FirstDaughter also takes sadistic pleasure in abusing Lahsin in every way she can.
Hell, Lahsin’s own parents are not just greedy social climbers, they are utterly cold assholes. Not only did they sell their teenage daughter to a man decades older than themselves. Not only did they ignore any efforts she made to explain the horrible reality of her circumstances. Now that she’s escaped and T’Yew might demand they return the money he paid for her? Well, they are quick to make it clear that they’ll pack Lahsin back to him faster than she could repudiate the marriage to them–if they actually let them speak at all, that is.
Two-dimensional villains not only clutter an otherwise wonderful story; they tend to call for unrealistic denouements to any conflict they are part of, and this book is no exception.
Normally, that would bring my final grade down, but in this case, the rest of the story is so very lovely, that Heart Fate gets an 8.50 out of 10.