Heartwood – Elemental Wars #1 – Freya Robertson

HeartwoodRelease date: October 29th, 2013
Publisher: Angry Robot
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 528
Format: e-book
Source: Netgalley

A dying tree, a desperate quest, a love story, a last stand.

Chonrad, Lord of Barle, comes to the fortified temple of Heartwood for the Congressus peace talks, which Heartwood’s holy knights have called in an attempt to stave off war in Anguis. But the Arbor, Heartwood’s holy tree, is failing, and because the land and its people are one, it is imperative the nations try to make peace.

After the Veriditas, or annual Greening Ceremony, the Congressus takes place. The talks do not go well and tempers are rising when an army of warriors emerges from the river. After a fierce battle, the Heartwood knights discover that the water warriors have stolen the Arbor’s heart. For the first time in history, its leaves begin to fall…

The knights divide into seven groups and begin an epic quest to retrieve the Arbor, and save the land.


‘Heartwood’ is a classic Epic Fantasy set in a completely new world where religion dominates the life of all. Not religion in the sense as we know it, but a religion that has a lot to do with nature. The center point of their worship is the Arbor, a tree in the center of some sort of temple that has been built around it through the Ages, in the settlement called Heartwood. Heartwood is populated with the Militis, a sort of military order that has sworn to protect the Arbor. The book starts off with an explosion of action, a raid on Heartwood during a meeting of the country leaders ends pretty badly for the Heartwood knights and the heart of the Arbor, the Pectoris, is stolen. After the uncovering of some shocking information the Militis and the leaders of the different countries must work together to save the land and restore the Arbor.

Everyone present is asked to join a group to go on a certain Quest to aid the rescue of the land and the Arbor. Each group goes on its own Quest and very soon all plummet into a depressing state of mind, all of them homesick, doubting they will ever succeed at their task. I would have preferred just one more positive character with some more confidence, because now the middle part of the book is pretty bleak and sad and a bit depressing.
The interesting part of these Quests, however bleak, was when the leaders of the groups all start experiencing different but unexplainable oddities. This brought some much needed tension back into the story to break the grey mood.

This beginning was really good, it gave an interesting introduction to this fascinating world with Heartwood at the center of the story. The battle was exhilarating and full of action, the aftermath intriguing and a great start to the rest of the book.
After that, the author lost me. The preparation of the Quest and the start of the journeys couldn’t interest me much. The only thing that kept me reading was the chemistry of some of the characters and the fact that I wanted to see what the author would do with the new culture she had created.

There were so many good elements in this book, but it just didn’t come together in the great story it could have been. Some of the things that occurred were not explained, or only touched upon. I needed more solid understanding about some things going on, because now I couldn’t fathom the reason behind some of the events. Other things were then again too obvious, especially one scene at the end of the book made me shake my head. It was too simple, too… forced. It didn’t fit into the flow of a good story, you’re not supposed to think: “Oh, that’s convenient”, but I did.

The main thing that bothered me though was the fact that I didn’t really ‘enjoy’ this story. I just kind of went with it. It never touched me as such an epic tale should touch me and has touched me in the past. Was it the fault of the characters? The writing style? The story itself? I can’t put my finger on it. Some of the characters did touch a cord with me, Chonrad and Fionnghuala for example, but they were one of the few who were able to. The others were just part of the story, they didn’t pull me in to their personal side story, they weren’t able to make me care.

The worldbuilding is wonderful though. The author created a beautiful new world with Anguis. She also used nature in a creative way to shape her characters, their history and their religion. It was really great to read about the contrasting countries with their similar religions but with such a different interpretation of them and how they perceive each other and how that changed for certain people during their ordeal.
The writing isn’t bad either, the book reads fluently and the author succeeded in weaving together a story with a lot of POV’s to a coherent whole. The switching between characters and chapters never threw me off, which is a good thing considering there is a lot happening in a lot of different parts of her world. It also never got confusing, so the composition of the story was pretty well done.

When I put it all together, this book didn’t really work for me. Though there were some really good elements, I think the execution lacked refinement and that easy flow a good Fantasy Epic should have. Some parts of the story were too obvious and some were never explained, which really got on my nerves. It’s a shame because this could have been one of those stories I absolutely loved, the premise is there, but it never reached its full potential.


Posted on October 19, 2013, in Freya Robertson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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