I’m always surprised when an author can work so totally for me in one book or series and completely leave me behind when it comes to another. When the Heartmates series began, Ms. Owens was publishing with a small press but I sought the books out because they sounded like something I’d enjoy. Not so much. Years later the author began a new series (Summoning – Guardian of Honor, Sorceress of Faith) with Harlequin Luna and again I picked up the first, this time because just about everything I’d read from Luna had been a hit. And that pattern continued with Guardian of Honor. I loved it. So, thinking that Ms. Owens and I were now in sync, I requested the latest in the HeartMates series to review. My plan didn’t work, and this book didn’t work on a number of levels.
Black Ilex Winterberry is a Guardsman working in the primary city of Celta, Druida City. Recently he’s been assigned to the Noble Houses to search for a murderer who is preying on lesser nobles. The murdered bodies all have one thing in common: their hearts have been removed without the body being cut open. Each of the nobles had strong, but unstable, Flair psi powers and Ilex is determined to catch the killer before his Heartmate, Trif, is endangered.
Trif Clover spends her days working in her parents’ furniture shop. Though she loves her family she’d rather be playing her music, improving her unstable Flair abilities or, most importantly, searching for her HeartMate. When Guardsman Ilex finds her going door-to-door trying to find her one and only love, he asks her to stop the search for the time being. Trif agrees because she knows that there have been several murders and because Ilex promises to help her with her Flair attempts to teleport herself from place to place. She doesn’t know that Ilex is her HeartMate and he plans to keep it that way.
This is the fourth book in this series set in Celta, and I had a very hard time with it initially (and this even though I;d already read part of the series). It’s not that the plot is terribly complicated – it’s anything but – it’s that the world-building feels entirely too much like fanfiction to me. Ms. Owens has gotten away from the use of the apostrophe in her protagonists names – though many of the stars of previous novels show up with that dreaded puntuation mark in their names, e.g. T’Holly, GrandLady D’Grove, Lady D’Blackthorn, Danith D’Ash, need I go on? But in so many ways the language and storytelling struck me as SF/Fantasy light. Trif gains a FamCat (a cat who can communicate with her telepathically) and it’s the cutest, spunkiest cat there is. Which sort of describes Trif as well.
Silliness aside, my biggest stumbling block was the tortured Ilex. He doesn’t want Trif to know that he’s her HeartMate because he once had a vision of himself lying on the floor with blood all around his head. I get that if he dies his HeartMate will probably do so as well, but his evidence for this “future” seems a little slim. And even if it weren’t, I didn’t love hearing about it over and over again. For about 200 pages this book simply dragged. Ilex finds a dead body or two, questions some people and warns Trif to be careful all while silently pining and agonizing over her. Trif bops around and tries to find her HeartMate. And that’s about it. When the actual danger gets closer to Trif and more is revealed the book finally picked up the pace.
Robin Owens has become a quite accomplished author of Fantasy romance. Her Luna series is evidence of that. I just wish more of that skill had been apparent in this series.