“I’ve been in many battles in my lifetime. I’ve slain monsters by the hundreds and won more victories than I can count, but against this there’s no defense. From the moment we met I tried fighting it—gods, I’ve tried. Nothing works. I thought I’d be safe at the other end of the country, but the minute I heard you were coming to Edan Rose I flew here as fast as Akarra would take me. I’m a Rider and you’re a nakla,” Daired said. “There’s nothing we have in common. There’s nothing we should have in common. Your birth, your bloodline, all of it—it’s beneath me. I know all of that, and it hasn’t changed a thing. I’ve lost, Aliza. You’ve defeated me.”
They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and there is no shortage of bloodthirsty monsters in the countryside estate of Merybourne. The Bentaine family has already felt the acute bite of the gryphon scourge, having lost one of their own to the invading beasts. So, when dragonriders come to Merybourne to defeat the monsters, Young Aliza Bentaine—bookish, headstrong, and possessing razor-sharp wit—is eager to meet them. While her mama schemes for a potential match between the handsome riders’ leader and her eldest daughter, Aliza is more interested in meeting and conversing with a dragon for the first time…that is, until she crosses paths with the handsome but insufferably arrogant and prideful rider Alastair Daired.
Aliza is but a humble daughter of a country gentleman, with no connections or fortune or name—but she will not stand for Daired’s slights or his condescending treatment of her family (or their garden goblins, for that matter). What results is a clash of wits, set to the beat of a regency romance—but with dragons, wyverns, and gryphons in the mix. For it’s not just Aliza’s heart that is at stake; it is the future of her family and the safety of her home that hangs in the balance.
The debut novel from Elle Katharine White, Heartstone is, quite literally, Pride and Prejudice but WITH DRAGONS. (More accurately, I guess you could say it’s Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but with slight changes to character names and the replacement of the walking dead with gryphons and dragons.) The names, the dialogue, the point-by-point facets of the story? All P&P-derived. This isn’t a bad thing—but it wasn’t what I was expecting going into the book. Because of this loyalty to Austen, Heartstone reads a little bit like fanfiction—but part of the pleasure of this book, and any good Pride and Prejudice retelling, is knowing when those important beats will happen. The romantic tension at the balls at Meryton and Netherfield; the romance between the headstrong female protagonist’s sister and the prideful male protagonist’s best friend; the arrival of an old nemesis from the past who is not what he seems; the inevitable love story that unfolds as the two main characters trade barbs and insults.
The cool thing is, Heartstone manages to break with Austen in a few key areas: the addition of mortal peril (as seen in the aforementioned Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so not too new) and the incorporation of sentient dragons. Yes, you read that correctly: sentient dragons. Easily my favorite addition to the P&P-world, talking, reasoning, regal-and-slightly-terrifying dragons play a pivotal role in this story. I love the choice to involve the dragons as characters (as opposed to magical non-talking beasts without will or say) and was very pleased with the ways that Elle Katharine White manages to change the Austen-analog with the incorporation of these magnificent beasts.
Of course, the other thing required of any novel trying to mimic Austen’s most beloved classic is nailing the Elizabeth Bennet-Mr. Darcy romance—and on that front, I’m happy to report that White succeeds. Aliza and Daired are true to their namesakes, and their chemistry is volatile and powerful. I can’t complain.
If you’re into Austen retellings, or if you like talking dragons with your regency romance, or if you’re just looking for an upbeat, lighthearted change to your fantasy routine, Heartstone is for you.
In Book Smugglerish, 7 gryphons out of 10.