A deadly mist encroaches over the realm of Ellest, where all magic is considered treason against the king, and a young girl with an unusual ability named Bleak finds herself in the middle of wars and secrets. After she receives a royal summons and a not so pleasant escort, Bleak is taken from her home in Angove and set for the capital. It is along the way that Bleak learns that king is not the only one interested in her ability. The leader of the powerful warriors known as the Valian Kindred also seeks to use Bleak’s abilities. While the Valian Kindred offer Bleak a safe, if not completely hospital sanctuary, The King sends Commander Swinton and Captain Fiore to bring Bleak and the Valian Matriarch to the capital. Wrought with mysteries and intrigue, Heart of Mist by Helen Scheuerer is a solid debut novel that leaves the reader waiting for the next novel in the series.
All the elements of a good fantasy novel are present in Heart of Mist. There is magic, mystery, adventure, knights, kings, and a struggle between good and evil. It is beautifully written and the different locations of Ellest are describe with incredible detail, building a truly vivid setting. The contrast between the King and the Valian Kindred and their view of magic and morality sets of a nice conflict between the two groups of people. Four of the key characters are fleshed out in chapters narrated from their own perspectives. Bleak is the most developed character of the four. She is a young and naïve orphan struggling as an outcast everywhere she goes. She fights against her ability, and even seeks a cure, while those around her all want to use the power she has. With no success in finding a cure, she tries to stifle her ability with alcohol at every chance she gets. Despite being a thief, she seems to have a strong moral code about fairness, one which can be broken for personal advantage. She represents a great character to carry the narrative of this story because she is not predictable and has no true allegiance. The other characters seem to already serve a single master loyally, although each master is different, and therefore their entwining stories create an inherent level of conflict.
While there is certainly conflict within the story, it is understated and doesn’t completely drive the story. The stakes aren’t established and what the different characters are fighting against is rather ambiguous. The threat in Ellest is murky at best. Where does it start? Where does it end? Who is behind it? Who does it effect? Who is in danger? Is it for power? Is it for magic? Is it to end all life? Is it all to have a beach front property? We are not given any of these answers, just the knowledge that there is a threat. There isn’t even a McGuffin that drives the characters onward. They only progress through their journey because they are told to do so, whether by the king or the Mother Matriarch of the Valia. Those with information would not share it and those who could pass along information (characters who had their own chapters) did not have information to share. Not all of the answers should have been given to us, but there were seeds of questions and other plot lines planted that a few of the important questions could have been answered without spoiling all of the mystery in the next book of the series. Using the different narrative perspectives to feed information to the reader while leaving other characters in the dark could have provided more solidified motivation and elevated the stakes. As a result, some of the chapters just added more questions rather than provide clarity or propel the story forward and by the end of the novel there are no significant consequences because there were no clear stakes. While this is only the first book in a series, it didn’t have the feeling of a completed story. That is not to say that the novel was not compelling nor a fun read, which it was.
Even though there were too many questions and too few answers, I was compelled to read chapter after chapter chasing what I desired. The story moved at a quick pace and I found myself excited to start a new chapter. Helen Scheuerer created a universe and story ripe with possibility and intrigue. Bleak and company are on the eve of an epic adventure which I am eager to continue. I am excited for the second installment to be published and can’t wait to discover the answers to all my burning questions.