Monday, May 7, 2012
The Master of Heathcrest Hall Review
A couple years ago, I spotted an intriguing book cover:
The back of the book said that the story took Jane Austen's comedy of manners and placed it in a fantasy world. As a Jane Austen and fantasy fan, I grabbed it and read it quickly. The story followed Ivy Lockwell, the eldest of three sisters whose father had gone mad years ago and whose mother was silly, like Mrs. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. The trappings of the story were familiar: Ivy is poor, but pretty and intelligent. Her annoying cousin, Mr. Wyble, is eventually going to inherit their home. It's been a while since I've read it so I don't remember all the details, but somehow through her cousin, Ivy falls into society people, meeting Dashton Rafferdy, a wealthy, shallow and lazy son of a lord (and probably the best character in the series) and his friend Eldyn Garritt. Rafferdy is descended from one of the seven major magical lines in the world and a shady magician named Mr. Bennick keeps trying to force him to take up his latent powers. Eldyn Garritt has the worst storyline (in all three books). He's also very poor and keeps trying to regain his old family fortune, while trying to protect his flighty 18 year old sister, who keeps flirting with a notorious highwayman.
Anyway the book takes place in the country Altania, which is basically England in the 1800's. Due to some crazy planetary action, the days and nights (here called lumenals and umbrals) vary in length. There's way too much time spent talking about the days and nights and how long they last each day. The science makes absolutely no sense but that's okay. There's magic in the world, controlled by male magicians that are descended from ancient magicians. Meanwhile, there are old trees referred to as the Wrydwood that seem to be self-aware and periodically "rises" to attack people. The trees are confined within walls. There's a lot of political stuff going on as well throughout the story, but since most of the first half of the book follows Ivy in her society and tea drinking adventures, we only catch small glimpses of that.
The second half of the book switches tone completely. For reasons I can't remember (financial probably), Ivy accepts a position in the country as a governess to a Mr. Quent's orphaned wards (it takes about 200 pages to get to the title character's name). Rafferdy and Garritt aren't in this section, which is narrated by Ivy in her journal. I think the book switches into first person too (maybe). The whole part of the book is very Charlotte Bronte. It's basically like Jane Eyre with magic. She moves into Heathcrest Hall, a manor house where the housekeeper, Darendal (essentially Mrs. Danvers) hates here. Mr. Quent is pretty serious and doesn't speak much. His wife, who looked weirdly like Ivy, died in a Wrydwood incident. Ivy ends up investigating the wife's death and learns secrets about her own past and mysterious powers. Since the book is entitled, "Mrs. Quent", clearly Ivy ends up married to Mr. Quent, although she definitely had more of a spark with Rafferdy.
After all of this, Ivy returns home and solves the mystery of what happened to her father and the house where she lived when she was younger. Rafferdy helps with this, bringing the two of them back together.
Okay, my intention here was to review the third book in the series which I just finished, so if you're interested in reading more, check out this review of book two. The second book was much better. It relies far less on Austen and Bronte, although the society stuff continues. Other reviewers have said that the books are far too long, which I agree with. They could definitely lose some time spent drinking tea and talking about the length of the days and nights. The House on Durrow Street reunites Ivy and her sisters with their childhood home. Mr. Quent is out of the picture a lot, which gives Ivy time to interact with Rafferdy. Garritt, meanwhile, tries for a career in the church but ends up discovering his talents as an illusionist and falls in love with a man (homosexuality is definitely not accepted by the general public in this world). The story also turns into a bit of science fiction, as the twelve planets in the sky start to align and the world is threatened by mysterious creatures called The Ashen.
Finally, onto book three, The Master of Heathcrest Hall. This book wraps things up nicely. The three major characters (Ivy, Rafferdy and Garritt) come into their own. Ivy learns to use her powers as a witch to control the trees, Rafferdy manipulates the parliament that he is a part of (essentially the British House of Lords) and uses magic as well, while finally Garritt uses his illusionist powers to help the rebel army that is descending on Altania, led by Huntley Mordon, in the hopes of taking the crown for himself. Again, Mr. Quent is out of the picture much of the time. Ivy's sisters, Rose and Lily, play a slightly bigger role, but most of the story is devoted to Ivy figuring out the final puzzles that her father left for her so she can defeat the Ashen. The titles of the first and last book are deceptive. Heathcrest Hall doesn't show until the last third of the book. Many characters end up sacrificing quite a bit for the greater good. Some people are torn apart from those they love forever, but there are some great reunions between characters who had been separated.
All in all, it was a satisfying end to the series. Lots of questions and mysteries were answered. The book went quicker than the other ones too. One thing that irritated me was that a chapter would open with some action already being done and then the rest of the chapter would flashback to explain how that occurred, which is annoying during major action scenes. You know the conclusion already, which cuts down on the tension that should have been there. Oh well. If you can get through the derivative nature of the first book and don't get way too annoyed with Eldyn Garritt like I did, these are a unique type of fantasy/sci fi and are overall an enjoying read.
Buy at amazon and barnes and noble.