Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review: Heartkeeper by B.T. Lyons (Heartkeeper Saga #1)

(Kindle edition is free right now!)

Genre(s): YA / Fantasy / Post-Apocalyptic / Coming of Age / Allegory

139 pages on Kindle

Heartkeeper is a novella set in the post-apocalyptic future, where the world population has dwindled to a sustainable level. To ensure their survival in the generations to come, humans picked up sustainable lifestyles and went back living in pre-industrial societies. Earth noticed their efforts and helped them out by releasing a system of Hearts, spirits of animals who each bind with a human and serve as their conscience.

Adain's a thirteen-year-old boy who has to complete an adulthood initiation rite with the other thirteen-year-olds called the Heart Chase, to hunt for his heart. Not all children are successful, and not all hearts are good. Most hearts are golden hearts, benevolent to humans. Red hearts are spiteful animal spirits, and they work as bullies in the forest. Black hearts are malevolent animal spirits, who had become embittered from suffering at the hands of humans--these tear people apart, and the village feeds their misfits to the black hearts. 

The children who fail to catch a golden heart by sunrise get eaten by the black hearts. Also, in order to be accepted by the village, a person has to be bound to a golden heart. When their heart leaves them (usually because they don't listen to the heart or do bad things to others), they are exiled from the village--basically condemned to be ripped apart by the black hearts. 

What I liked:

  • The story held my interest - I was hooked right away into the narration of the story from the perspective of Adain. It's a simple and captivating story because its rules are so distinct and the struggles of the characters are survival-related, but also struggles we can relate to, like trying to fit in by lying about yourself.
  • Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy! - This is a deviation from both many post-apocalyptic stories and fantasy stories that I've read. The system of hearts is beautiful, and I love the idea of every person having a spirit companion to telepathically communicate with. Every spirit had different shades to depict their energy levels, which translates well into human personalities and they're all accepted whether they're perky or calm.
  • Environmental message - I think it's a great worst-case-scenario lesson on what will happen to the world if we don't take care of it. The fall of civilization and the scarcity of resources would launch us back in time in terms of technology. I wouldn't want to live in a world where you could be ripped to shreds at the age of thirteen if you're not quick enough. The children are relatively calm as the prospect of possibly getting ripped up--the consequence of living in a harsher world.
  • Fenjine and Adain have a lot of chemistry - Well, of course they click. :) They're companions bound together for the rest of Adain's life. Their back-and-forth teasing is fun, and the fact that Fenjine is a mouse spirit is just adorable.

    I'm not a dude; I'm a mouse!
What I didn't like: 

  • Inconsistency is never explained - I had trouble suspending my belief because Earth had never spoken before the apocalypse, not with glowing animal spirits. The physical rules of the future world are inconsistent with the rules from our world, and that's fine, but I wish there was an explanation for how the sentient Earth grew balls and a voice overnight.
  • Antagonists are too simple - It is satisfying to see bullies get thrown out of the village to be torn apart by black hearts, but we don't get to see them as people. It creates the self-righteous mentality of, "Oh, they deserved it because they were bad people."
  • No redemption is possible if you're a messed up person - The Hearts have all the power in the relationship. By giving all the power of judgement to the Hearts, the system takes away the ability of humans to reform themselves out of their own will. The ones who choose not to change or see their horrible ways are too stupid to see the threat to their lives, and I fail to understand why parents wouldn't make it clear to their kids that If you're bad, you DIE. Everyone else is just good all the time, I guess.
  • You're either good or you're bad - All the "bad" people are killed so that leaves the "good" people who were good enough to deserve a Heart. It also limits people down to "good" and "bad" as opposed to the complex gray area of "goodness" and "badness" that most people are. 
    If you feel greedy then you are chastised by your heart. This would create a culture of guilt and fear, because if you don't stop thinking your evil thoughts then your heart may leave you.

    Am I good OR bad?

Overall, it was a really entertaining read. It is an allegory--there is a big moral story: be a productive member or society, or die. The characters aren't really fleshed out but represent types of people and how they interact with the rest of society. I recommend it as a fun teaching story for students in elementary school or middle school, but it might be too black-and-white for older people. 

However, it does spark a thoughts about how mean or lazy people should be held accountable for their actions. The society that Adain lives in is collectivistic--everyone relies on each other, so one selfish person will slow down the rest of the village and even hurt it. The consequences of being selfish go beyond pettiness and hurt feelings--people can starve. Everyone needs to pitch in to make it all work. 

My rating: 

Heartkeeper by B.T. Lyons 

The Kindle version is free on Amazon right now. ;) 

Books in the Heartkeeper Saga by B.T. Lyons:
1. Heartkeeper

Thank you for reading! <3 What do you think about the Hearts system? Is it too harsh or just right, for the society that Adain lives in? 

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