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Heartmender (by V. Romas Burton) review

*4 stars*

This book was a pleasant surprise.

It arrived on my bookshelf as an impulse-buy after I friended the author on Instagram and decided, what the heck, I should support more of my fellow authors. Plus I was mildly intrigued by the book description, which is:

In the land of Barracks, the economy thrives on the barter of their citizens' most precious commodity—a human heart. Each year, the Heart Reign festival is thrown for those who have become of age to trade their hearts for their deepest desires.

And this year is Adelaide Tye's year to trade.

After despising Heart Reign for years, Addie endures her Extraction and discovers that her heart isn’t gray and dying, like all other hearts in Barracks, but bright red, alive, and teeming with power.

With a warning from the extractor of hearts, Addie rushes through Heart Reign to make her choice—trade her heart to Schism, the monster who took her brother years before, or go in search of the Mender—a mythical man said to purify hearts and save her own heart. Either decision will rip her away from the one man who has always been by her side.

Knowing there is only one real choice to make, Addie jumps through Schism’s red door and is thrust into a dark and dangerous realm where she is faced with making a trade she may not survive.

So, Heartmender received a spot on my bookshelf (I'm about to need to buy a bigger one) and stayed there for a few months while I plowed through a variety of trending YA fantasies.

Then one day I finished one of those popular bestsellers and decided I was in the mood for whatever Heartmender had to offer.

See, it's Christian fiction, and despite being an author of Christian fiction myself and having grown up on the genre, I'm not the biggest fan. I got sick of it a few years ago when I came to the conclusion that every CF book I'd ever read used the same cliches and the same plot pattern and the same resolution. So I've been more or less avoiding the genre ever since.

I'm glad I made an exception for this little book. It didn't use the same cliches, or follow the same plot pattern, or use the same resolution. Maybe to an extent (some level of formula is unavoidable, after all) but all delivered in a fresh, original way.

We start out with a main character, Addie, who has severe anxiety and is still reeling from the loss of her brother years ago. Her portrayal and background, and also her mysterious friend, Silas, drew me in immediately. Silas didn't have a role after the first few chapters except as a memory, but I'm pretty sure he'll be making a comeback in the sequel and I am definitely down for that. Addie's anxiety seemed to "taper off" as the story got going, kind of forced into the background to make room for plot, which is unfortunate. Still, it was well done in the beginning and still influenced her development for the rest of the story.

The story itself is simplistic yet poignant. I won't get into details or spoilers, but Addie faces several difficult choices that readers will likely relate to (on a more abstract level) as things they've faced in their own lives.

One of my favorite things about Addie's character and story is that her arc isn't resolved. That was one of the main tropes that bothered me in Christin fiction--the MC starts out conflicted and/or skeptical in faith, but eventually has some sort of revelation moment and from there on out, it's pretty much smooth sailing. They are firm believers and seem to have it all figured out. That has always felt fake and "sugar-coated" to me, so I appreciated that it didn't happen here. Addie grows and learns and does begin to have faith, but at the end of the book, she's still growing and learning. Just like all of us in real life--we never stop learning. We never stop messing up, hitting the ground, and having to pull ourselves up again.

There were a few issues with this book, primarily some rough patches where things started to lag and the pacing was off, and a conclusion that felt rushed and not fully fleshed out. But overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by this book, and would recommend!

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