Heartless, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, was published in 2010 by Bethany House.
Princess Una of Parumvir has come of age and will soon marry. She dreams of a charming prince, but when her first suitor arrives, he’s not what she’d hoped. Prince Aethelbald, from the mysterious kingdom of Farthestshore, has travelled a great distance to prove his love—and also to bring hushed warnings of danger. A dragon is rumored to be on the hunt and blazing a path of terror. Una, smitten instead with a more dashing prince, refuses Aethelbald’s offer—and ignores his cautions with dire consequences. Soon the Dragon King himself is in Parumvir and Una, in giving her heart away unwisely, finds herself in his sights. Only those courageous enough to risk everything have a hope of fighting off this advancing evil.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I was expecting some sort of mediocre, clunky fantasy, but what I got was not that, and that was nice. Fantasy tends to be better than other genres at communicating themes and images without getting too heavy with symbolism, and for the most part Heartless has some very pretty writing, with some pretty images that communicate the message well. It almost reached the “too much” stage right at the end, but perhaps only for those who understood what Stengl was trying to show.
And even the “too much” stage handles the imagery well. It reminded me quite a bit of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Eustace’s transformation from dragon to boy. In the same manner, Una has to let Aethelbad kill the dragon that she has become so that she can be restored as a girl. Even in its symbolism-heavy state in the book, it’s still a powerful and important message.
However, even with the good imagery and symbolism, the characters annoyed me. Una spent way too much time pining and hoping that Leonard would come back, and even after it’s obvious that he betrayed her she still waits for him (I know, I know, teenagers often lack common sense and sometimes you have to see someone’s dishonesty for yourself before you believe it). Then she mopes around as a dragon (understandably, but still) and pretty much does absolutely nothing. She does try to kill the Dragon, though, so props to her.
Aethelbald didn’t so much annoy me as just bored me. I do like that Stengl presented him as this mysterious, powerful, calm, wise fairy prince, because, boy, did Una need that sort of character to anchor her. But you can still have mysterious, powerful, etc. and still have personality, and Aethelbald had none.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
She remembered once, when she was younger, reading an adventure tale in which the princess heroine had disguised herself and crept out of the palace and into the countryside on a grand and glorious quest. Granted, this had led to rather a lot of unpleasantness for the princess, but Una had been inspired nonetheless.
That very afternoon she had commanded one of her maids to loan her a gown, rubbed ashes from the fireplace all over her hands and face, and taking up the maid’s bucket of dirty water, stepped boldly from her chambers.
The first footman she had encountered had bowed low and asked, “May I help you, princess?”
Una had given up disguises since then.