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Monstrous Heart by Claire McKenna

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And now for something completely different…

Monstrous Heart by Claire McKenna
UK Publication Date: 31st March 2020
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: [★★★]

This ARC was provided by Harper Collins UK (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Netgalley: A sensational debut novel perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Aliette de Bodard. This is gothic, epic, romantic fantasy at it’s very best; a tale of magic, intrigue on dangerous waters and a love story for the ages.

Arden Beacon arrives in the salt-swept port of Vigil with a job to do. Tasked with using the magic in her blood to keep the lighthouse burning, she needs to prove herself worthy of her family name and her ancestors’ profession.

But the coastline Arden must keep alight – battered by a sea teeming with colossal, ancient beasts – is far from the cultured, urban world she knows. It is a place of secrets, rumours and tight-lipped expectations of a woman’s place. More than anyone, the town folk whisper about Arden’s neighbour, Jonah Riven, the hunter of leviathans. They say he murdered his wife. They say he is as much a monster as his prey.

My Thoughts: This was a pleasant change from the sort of books I have been reading recently. As if life wasn’t tough enough the Booker International judges felt the need to pile more misery and hopelessness onto me, I am pleased to say this book allowed me to escape from the sameness of everyday life under lockdown.

As a reader you are thrown off the deep end (literally) into the fantasy world that McKenna has created and in the deep you find yourself face to face with Kraken and other mythical sea beasts and while you might think that these monsters are what Arden should fear it is actually her fellow humans who present the most danger.

Without giving too much away the world Arden inhabits is one carefully controlled by genetics where special powers are passed on through the blood. In order to ensure that these powers are kept safely under control and within specific families there is a genetics council also know as “lions” that make sure every person with a blood gift is known to them and married appropriately. Against this backdrop Arden must make her way in the world as a woman doing a job most would like to see a man performing.

What I liked about this book was the strong female characters of whom there are several each woman is distinct from the others and each has a particular destiny to fulfil. Not so great were the male characters who were lets say a tad bit stereotypical specifically the rich playboy who needs to make a good marriage and is not afraid of forcing the issue and the lonely, brooding, misunderstood romantic hero.

I liked the way sexuality was handled with a few throwaway comments that make it clear that whatever your preference is there is no issue to be found with it. Indeed relationships apart from the central romance are treated very much matter of factly regardless of the orientation.

I also enjoyed the world building once I managed to surface from the initial plunge I was intrigued by the blood affinities and how they work and also totally caught up in a world where Kraken patrol the sea.

Overall an interesting debut novel and I will be looking out for the next instalment.

Who would like this? I would recommend this to anyone who wants to escape the real world for a few hours. I will add a quick warning here – this is obviously the first book in a series so if you like everything all neatly tied up with a bow that doesn’t happen. You have been warned.

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

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