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Heart Blade by Juliana Spink Mills

Heart Blade by Juliana Spink Mills
Book Name: Heart Blade
Author: Juliana Spink Mills
Publisher(s): Woodbridge Press
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Urban Fantasy
Release Date: February 13, 2017

Urban fantasy is absolutely my bag. I write it. I read it. I openly pine to live in a world where I can punch a troll in the face on my way home from work. Or to work. Honestly, I’m not picky about when my troll punching gets done. The idea that something big and scary is hiding just out of sight, that we live in a world that is not what it seems is thrilling to me and I inhale just about any story or setting that offers it up. So when the chance to get an early glimpse at a new YA urban fantasy series, I got quite excited.

Heart Blade is the first book in Juliana Spink Mills’ Blade Hunt Chronicles and it opens, as most good books do, with a death. Don’t feel too bad, though. The dead guy is a vampire assassin and he walked right into a trap. Over the next few chapters we get introduced to our main characters, including half-demon Del, half-angel Ash, and full-werewolf Rose, as well as a lot of worldbuilding that you’d expect from the first novel in a series like this. We find out that the world of the supernatural is ruled by a set of laws called the Covenant, which is designed primarily to keep humans from finding out about things that they shouldn’t find out about.

The book gets off to a fairly slow start, with around 7 characters getting chapters told from their point of view, each one taking their turn to set up the world. To Mills’ credit, she does a decent job of drip feeding the worldbuilding to us at a steady rate, neither overloading the reader at the start nor leaving them in the dark. The conflict between the Sentinels, who are half-angels tasked with enforcing the Covenant, and the demons who are tasked with being, well, demons has the air of tension to it even before you fully understand the delicate balance they are upholding. It is a skill that is rare to see in a debut novel and it allows the plot to move forward unhindered by excess exposition.

That isn’t to say that the pacing is without fault, however. Just that it isn’t the setting that gets in the way. With so many characters to introduce in a relatively short book, it takes a very long time before many of the plot lines merge together. The novel takes a while to find its footing, slowly gaining traction before it hits its stride in the middle act. The highlight of the book, for me, is a sequence that finds Ash and Del escaping from some evil witches (Did I forget to mention there are witches? I feel like I forgot to mention that.) and narrowly avoid being caught by Ash’s father without even realising it. It feels chaotic and hectic and oddly natural. In a book that sometimes relies a bit too heavily on plot devices and happenstance, this has a wonderful sense of excitement to it. It is so satisfying that it makes the climax of the novel feel tame by comparison.

Most of the characters manage to save the pacing misstep, however. Though the sexual tension is occasionally a bit forced, most of the relationships feel natural and human, even among the most inhuman of them. Which is an important thing in any urban fantasy novel. No matter how outlandish and bizarre your characters are, they need that grounding in the human condition to be successful. For the young protagonists, this means desperately trying to free themselves from the path that has been chosen for them. That teenage frustration of being trapped in a life chosen for you rather than the one you want is palpable throughout the narrative. We’ll have to wait until book two to see how successful each one is.

In all, Heart Blade is a solid debut novel. What it lacks in subtly it makes up for with rewarding character interactions and some well-crafted action scenes. Mills manages to create a living world without overwhelming us right from the start. Despite a few missteps in the overall narrative, Heart Blade is a worthwhile read if you are in the mood for something a bit more adult than the typical young adult novel. As I finished Heart Blade, I was interested in where Mills takes these characters and how much chaos she can put her cast of characters through before they finally break. If she learns from the few rough patches in her debut, then there is a lot to look forward from both the series and author.


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