This isn’t my usual choice of read as I generally prefer urban-fantasy but I looked at one of the prequel stories that Helen Scheuerer released prior to Heart of Mist and it was so well written and the character voice so strong, that I was really looking forward to reading the full book on its release. And it did not disappoint!
The beginning is gritty, visceral and emotionally-raw. “Bleak’s gut clenched as she vomited onto the dirt that spun before her.” We meet MC, Bleak, struggling to live with the magic she has, or “her condition” as she terms it, early on. We quickly learn that Bleak’s condition means that she can hear people’s thoughts. And, despite her defensive and surly manner, her drinking and pick-pocketing, we quickly come to empathise with her.
There is brilliant exposition and characterisation woven through the story as skilfully as Bleak ties her fisherman’s knots!
The regions of the world are wonderfully introduced in such ways as the goods throughout the market and in the descriptions of the soldiers early on in the narrative. There is a lot of world-building, with lots of names, history, and religion to get to grips with but all this is interspersed extremely well throughout the narrative.
I thought the characters were all very well fleshed out. Particularly Fiore and Swinton. Bleak is rescued by Henri, a proud warrior and queen of the Vallians. These people are a warrior clan that live in the forest and have a strong matriarchal society. A fifth of the book in, we’re introduced to Dash, who lives in the main city in Angovia. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent how much the Ashai, (people with magic) still exist in the populace. I got really into the narrative from Bleak’s point of view and struggled a little with the shift to Dash. I think this is a personal preference though as I tend to like stories narrated from one or two viewpoints. Still, I was very invested with Bleak, Swinton (captain of the guard) and Henri (warrior queen) as all of these characters were involved early on with Bleak. I felt the shift to Dash’s narration (although understandable for developing the wider world) detracted a little from the immediacy of the story.
After Bleak’s defensiveness, her surliness, her closing herself off for so long, I would have liked more to pass/happen between her and Bren when he found out the enormous secret she had kept all her life from him. It was true to character for bleak but it was annoying how she did just walk away. There’s a fantastically gory scene three-quarters of the way in when Bleak comes into her magic in a way we haven’t seen. All the anger and pain she’s been keeping at bay seeps out and the events definitely linger with you.
I was very eager to see what happened to Bleak by the end of the book. There is plenty left open-ended and I will definitely be purchasing a copy of the next book in The Oremere Chronicles.