Fantasy Review: ‘Heartwood’ by Freya Robertson

Heartwood (Elemental Wars, #1)‘Heartwood’ is an ambitious novel, but ultimately it fails.  Rarely do I jump to the point so quickly, but there it is.  It reads like a video game novelization, complete with an overly long info-dumping manual to start the book.

Representatives from all over the land are conveniently in one place for a summit that no expects anything from.  Don’t worry, the reason for the meeting is unnecessary, it just was there to bring all the heroes into one place.  We meet the books protagonist, one Chonrad, a valiant knight of destiny that everyone knows is noble and just.  Don’t worry about him either; despite being the closest thing to a protagonist the book has he does nothing important though the entire book, until he walks into his role of destiny.  We meet our cast of hard to tell apart characters; getting an overview of each land they belong to in long info dumps (complete with what sect of the religion they practice despite it mattering not at all).  Then finally the story starts.

Basically it is a Legend of Zelda knockoff.  A large group of water elementals attack the tree of life and rip out its heart.  A historian finds a secret staircase that has been undiscovered for hundreds of years under a large chest.  There he learns there are five places of powers that have been corrupted; conveniently one in each land that someone remembers with ease.  Parties are set up, and people go out on Quests (always capitalized).  Most go to clean up separate temples, while one group plans on using magic to turn into water elementals and get back their tree’s heart.  Hell, there is even the bonus Quest of tracking down the wondering earth mage who can make flowers grow with a thought.  Again; Tree of Life, secret room that is barely hidden, five corrupted temples.  Oh, and an ancient battle of elements was in there somewhere.  If I wasn’t so lazy I would have so many images from a certain N64 classic embedded into this review it would bog down the site.

I will give a little bit of credit for the way the author kept five different Quest parties going without the narrative ever getting too confused.  But I won’t gush too much because while the narrative never got confusing it never really got interesting either.  Every one of the Quests read exactly the way.  Some kind of early trouble with bandits or whatnot, travel time with more info dumps about what food was packed or other page filling nonsense, and a way too easy conclusion when finding the corrupted temple (nodes of power, whatever).  I won’t giveaway how the nodes are cleaned, but be assured once it is done the first time there is zero drama left in the rest of them.  And don’t even get me started on the party that went back after the baddies who attacked the Great Deku Tree.  So anticlimactic it may as well been left out.

What else?  We see a group tortured and raped for information that the other quest parties give out freely to every person they meet.  And like Gaga we see bad romance.

“You are a strange one, Chonrade, Lord of Barle,” she said, her voice husky.  “You extract my feelings as if you are wheedling a whelk out of its shell.  Nobody has ever had the power to affect me in all my years the way you have since your arrival only two days ago”

I always try to say something positive.  Usually it is easy even in books I didn’t enjoy.  A bit harder here but there were twin brothers who provided some of the most interesting dynamics.  They had an interesting love hate bond that actually worked pretty well.  Other than that, I have nothing.  I hate to be pure negative, but at this point I feel it is my duty to warn people off this book.  It’s not offensive, nor does it talk down to the reader or pander to anyone or any of the things that make it easier to bash a book.  It just isn’t very good.

2 Stars

Review copy received from NetGalley.  Quote provided is from advanced reading copy and may not be present in published version.