Heartstone follows the trend of so many Austen-inspired novels: the outline of the plot is intact but so much of the charm and wit of the inspiration material is completely missing. In this modern age of ‘tell but fail to actually show’, we have to assume the heroine is intelligent and that the hero has depths that belie the harsh exterior since neither will actually be demonstrated. Dragons do not make up for the missing nuances that make an Austen work so endearing but Heartstone is an easy read that flows smoothly, if blandly, with a satisfying ending.
Story: Aliza Bentaine’s family has a deadly problem – gryphons have nested near their home and they’ve even lost a family member to the menace. Their solution is to hire the elite dragon riders to rid them of the problem. Proud and fierce head rider Alastair Daired is the best of his kind but is surprisingly frustrated by his attraction to non-dragon-kin Aliza. Meanwhile, his fellow dragon rider has taken a strange liking to Aliza’s beautiful sister.
Author White stays very close to the origin story, with only a few changes (e.g., one sister is dead when the story begins). But readers don’t need to have read the original Austen to enjoy Heartstone. If anything, I think it might be better not to have read Pride and Prejudice since Heartstone contains so many of the modern romance novel tropes that are incongruous to the spirit of an Austen book. E.g., I can’t imagine Austen writing about how good Darcy smells or chancing upon him shirtless and admiring his naked male physique. I’d call this “Austen Light” or a way to introduce readers to the great situations that made Austen’s romances so appealing.
I felt it was a clever idea to exchange aristocracy based upon nobility with aristocracy based upon ability to bond with a dragon. But that said, it wasn’t well thought out here; too much of Regency era nobility conventions were randomly combined with the ‘dragon nobility’ – women are both missish and fierce and therefore there was less of a uniqueness about a strong willed woman in Heartstone as with Elizabeth Bennet was in P&P. Darcy/Daired’s interest in Aliza was fairly inexplicable as a result. I wish the worldbuilding had been better thought out rather than have a fairly thin model fused with a Regency England milieu.
Pride and Prejudice is a large book that gives its characters time to grow. That doesn’t happen in Heartstone, which is both a blessing and a curse. I think the best description is that this is a Twinkie of a book – sweet but not very satisfying and easily forgettable after an hour. But as an afternoon diversion, I think this is definitely suitable for even younger YA audiences. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.