A young medieval woman embarks on a grim mission in this first installment of a fantasy romance series.
Nineteen-year-old Zera Y’shennria is a Heartless. Quite literally: A witch named Nightsinger has taken her heart and keeps it in a jar, making Zera her soldier. This was a kindness at first. (Bandits butchered Zera’s parents and left her to die; she’s only “alive” now thanks to witch magic.) But Zera has killed as a Heartless and suffers from the memories of those deaths and from an insistent hunger for raw flesh. Zera might hide behind sassy humor, yet she feels the emptiness in her chest. Even if her heart was returned to her, could she ever be truly human again? This question resounds when Zera is sent to take the heart of Prince Lucien d’Malvane, heir to the same kingdom that fought the Sunless War against the witches. If she succeeds—if she survives the courtly intrigue and turns Lucien into a Heartless—Zera will be restored. But Lucien is not like the other nobles. He does not crave death or power, and his imperious disdain cloaks a good man—someone for whom, despite herself, Zera finds she has feelings. Wolf (Burn Before Reading, 2017, etc.) depicts Heartlessness not merely as a sliver of dark fantasy, but also as a metaphor for love and life, thus encouraging the sort of late teen romance reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Zera is an exemplar of confident, capable, relentlessly witty young womanhood. She is assertive, proactive, and, above all, a fun character to follow, yet she’s sufficiently well-rounded that, if anything, her inner Heartless voice becomes too intrusive a reminder of the struggle she faces. The author brings this conflict out in any case through spirited use of the first-person, present tense and by way of a plot that flirts playfully with expectations. Having pulled readers in and enamored both them and Zera with its secondary characters, the droll story simmers, then bubbles toward a denouement—or as close as can be expected from the first book of a trilogy.
A zesty treat for YA and new-adult fantasists.