Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: The Northern Heart
SERIES: Kingdom Curses #2
AUTHOR: Sasha L. Miller
PUBLISHER: Less Than Three Press
LENGTH: 210 pages
RELEASE DATE: March 7, 2017
Several weeks ago Emmerich saved the royal family—but at great cost to himself. He keeps going into trances and wandering off, and the problem is getting worse. If they don’t figure out a solution soon, whatever’s wrong will kill him. As if that’s not enough, the person stuck babysitting him is a man he desperately wishes had wanted him for more than one night.
Pearce is at his wits end trying to save the man he cares about. Nothing he tries helps for more than a moment, and each time Emmerich falls asleep and slips into a trance, bringing him back out requires greater and greater magic—if the trance doesn’t kill him first, waking him most certainly will.
If you haven’t read the first book in this series, The Heart of the Kingdom, I would absolutely do so before reading this review. Not only is this review a bit spoilerish for that book, but it is also a great fantasy story and I really do recommend it. Also, I think that this series is one that is best read in sequence. In fact this review took so damn long to come out after the release date (sorry!) because I got three pages into this book and realized that I needed to go back and read the first one. So if you haven’t yet done so, just go and read it. I loved it, and it will help give you the backstory for a lot of the characters and plot here.
So, without further ado–and with spoiler warnings in full affect–I give you The Northern Heart.
This book takes place not long after the closing of The Heart of the Kingdom. The elvish plot to take over the magic node for the kingdom has failed, but the cost of thwarting them is particularly high for the mage Emmerich. He has lost his connection with his magic–except for when he falls into a trance he has no control over and no memory of. And as these blackout periods increase, and with no one at the capitol with a clue how to stop them, he is sent–along with Prince Pearce–up to the northern wall in the hope that distance from the node will help give them time to come up with a cure for whatever curse is affecting him. But despite a brief period of respite, the trances are increasing in frequency and power. If the Prince cannot help his friend find a cure soon it is very likely that he will lose Emmerich forever. If not to whatever power that has the mage in its grip, then to the wear on Emmerich’s body from lack of sleep.
I didn’t get much time with Emmerich and Pearce before, but I was excited to see what happened after the close of book one. And though the beginning of their relationship–as it were–began somewhere in the middle of the last book, and as a result was off-page for us, I think this story did a good job of giving us the needed impressions from that initial coming together without resorting to a bunch of lengthy flashbacks (always a point-winner with me). And right when I thought the guys where going to forever be victim to The Misunderstanding, they instead figured their shit out. Which was refreshing. It’s a useful trope, if used correctly, but a lot of time it gets drawn out past all rationality and ends up really annoying the reader (i.e. me). I think this book had it balanced quite nicely. Just long enough to add tension, but it let go before it started to feel like the characters (and the author) were purposefully being stubborn only for Plot reasons.
I also liked the inclusion of Rylan in this story (and not just because we got to see–sorta–his confrontation with his father about his actions in book one). All the secondary characters where well written in this, to be honest. And I don’t know if there is a book three planned, but if there is I wouldn’t say no to maybe having one, or both, the MCs being elvish. There certainly is some interesting stuff still left undisclosed in this book and it’d be fun to see some of this world from the other side, as it were.
And on that note, while the elves were a bit out of left field in the last book, I really ended up liking the various parts they played in this story. One of the things I like the most was how it was not some united front. It wasn’t all “all elves are all bad,” but more like “these certain elves are massive dicks, but they might have a reason for it, and hey those other ones aren’t so bad.” I guess I just really like when antagonist are not evil for evil sake. Sure there are a couple I wouldn’t mind falling off a steep cliff, but I could almost sympathize with the reason that their actions were taken. Even if I found the result of those actions rather horrible. I also appreciate that the author kept certain scenes to a minimum. You’ll probably know what I’m talking about if you read the book. Pain is not something I’m all that stoked to read about.
My one big gripe about this story–and perhaps the only reason this didn’t get bumped up to 4.5–was that the ending, while enjoyable, felt a bit flat. It felt like there was this build up of tension going on throughout the story, but nothing really came of it in the end. I don’t dislike the ending, but it felt a bit anticlimactic. I kept reading, expecting something to happen, but then I looked down and my kindle was saying I was at 98% and I realized that nothing was coming. It was a bit of a waste for all the nice anticipation that I had going on.
That aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this story and I recommend this series for fantasy lovers. The first one had a bit of a fairytale-retold theme going on, but as far as I can tell this one didn’t. I love the whole fairytale angle of book one, but I love it more when authors step back from that and let the story go where it will without trying to shoehorn a set plot into the sequel. Overall it was a fun read and I’m sure I’ll end up rereading it at some point.