Heartfire

Heartfire

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels [here] and [here].

Heartfire was written by Kate A Boorman and first published in 2016. It is the final part of the Winterkill Trilogy and is preceded by Winterkill (2014) and Darkthaw (2015). The story continues where Darkthaw leaves off and I would strongly recommend reading the novels in order if you want to have the faintest idea of what’s going on.

Emmeline has settled into life with the osanaskisiwak. Although she still feels like a bit of an outsider within their community, the First People have gratefully accepted her skills as a healer and are eager to teach her their ways. Tom has also found a place among them, finally able to find love with another man as he’s always dreamed of. The only thing missing is Kane. Em misses him terribly but she has not heard from him since they parted ways.

However, things take a turn for the worse when the First People start to be stricken by the Bleed. The disease has never affected them before but now their medicines seem to be failing. To make matters worse, Kane and Genya arrive at the settlement with words that the Dominion are near and have set their sights on the osanaskisiwak, knowing that they have the cure for the Bleed.

Em heads out to meet with the leader of the Dominion to cut a deal. They will offer the cure for the Bleed so long as the Dominion agree to leave the First People alone. The only problem is that it is all a gamble. The First People do not have the cure on hand anymore. Em releases that the only place they can get it is the Forbidden Woods, however that would mean returning to the Settlement that she left behind…

Heartfire is one of those books that I find phenomenally hard to review. As with Winterkill and Darkthaw before it, the problem does not lie in the fact that it’s a bad book. The problem is more that its forgettable. Despite that the story has some interesting facets, it can’t escape the fact that nothing about it shone particularly brightly.

To begin with the positive, I still love the setting of this series. The early chapters of Heartfire were my favourites as they finally allowed the reader to see what life is like for the osanaskisiwak. While we have experienced snippets of this in the earlier stories through Em’s friendship with Matisa and Isi, this is the first time that she’s been completely immersed in their culture.

The series still draws rough inspiration from the settlement of America, with the Dominion as encroaching white settlers and the First People as Native Americans. Now we’ve experienced both societies, the lack of understanding between the two parties is all the clearer. The First People are set in their ways, gradually alienating their allies through their refusal to share the secret of the cure. The Dominion are unable to understand the way that the osanaskisiwak live, believing that they need to dominate and civilise the “lawless” lands.

The opening of the novel is also incredibly tense, as Em takes it upon herself to find a way to save the First People through a mixture of her dreams, experiences on her journey and the medical training she received from Soeur Manon. Her desire to help her new friends (despite the fact that she obviously misses Kane) shows that she’s gained the ability to understand the bigger picture and strive to do what it takes to ensure the survival of an entire race of people, even if it means that her own happiness has to take a hit. These first hundred pages are great. Unfortunately, things went downhill for me when Em and her friends started their new journey.

Everything about this novel just felt horribly rushed, as though Boorman was trying to condense a much grander story into a relatively short page count. As with Darkthaw, the middle section of this story just felt unfocused, as though the author was just throwing random obstacles in Em’s path to fill the time before the climax. For example, the return to the Keep could have been dramatic. This was the setting for the most intense and memorable scene in Darkthaw, yet this time Em’s visit was over before it had much time to build tension.

Boorman also still has the tendency to resolve “impossible” situations through random crazy happenstances. Em would get into situations that seemed deadly, such as being surrounded by armed men. There would appear to be no hope for her survival and she’d steel herself for death. However, then something off the wall would happen to make these problems go away. Like the arrival of supposedly dead characters to rush in and rescue her. Or, on one occasion, a very confusing flash flood (seriously, there was little build up to this and it took me chapters afterwards to figure out that’s what had happened). This just felt like weak writing. Em rarely seemed to get out of situations through her own ingenuity. She was just saved from death again and again through sheer coincidence.

The climax of the story was also a bit downplayed. This has been a problem with the series on the whole, as none of the books had especially strong endings. In Heartfire, the story culminates on a battle between the people of Em’s original settlement and Leon’s men. Unfortunately, Em witnesses very little of this battle and so there was no real sense of struggle or loss. In fact, everything about the climax was just a little too neat. Even the rising tension between the First People and the Dominion was resolved with next to no issues and so the inevitable conclusion just felt unrealistically easy for all concerned.

I don’t really want to spoil anything further in case you decide to read this series so I’ll just wrap up by talking a little about character. For all this story’s faults, I do still adore Emmeline. Over the course of this series, she’s really gone from strength to strength. Despite the fact that she’s physically frail and doesn’t really possess any special skills, she has a tremendous amount of courage and heart. By the end of the novel, Em fears no one. She’s developed a strong sense of right and wrong and would challenge anyone, even her loved ones, if she feels that they’re getting between her and her goals.

Yet the extended cast still don’t seem that memorable. I still just dislike Kane. Although he finally gives up on trying to change Em about halfway through this story, I still find him to be manipulative. Not only towards Em but he manages to lead Genya along in this story quite nicely too (though this plot point just kind of tails away after a while as Genya disappears from the story). I also felt that more could have been made of Tom’s relationship. He seems to have gotten together with Eisu between books but other than that, he has no development. I would have thought that this would have had a bigger impact during their return to the Settlement, as Winterkill made clear that homosexuality was utterly forbidden in their culture.

Anyhow, I think you’ve probably gotten the picture. All in all, I didn’t dislike this series on the whole but I did find it to be a bit forgettable. If you’re curious, I’d suggest taking a look. Despite its flaws, it does have some sound world building and Em is a wonderful character. I’m glad that I did see it through to the end but don’t think it’s a series that I’m likely to read again.

Heartfire can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook from Amazon.co.uk

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