The Heartless City

The Heartless City - Andrea Berthot

[I received a copy from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.]

First thing first: gorgeous cover is gorgeous.

I liked the characters in general. Elliot who was a good soul from the beginning, and had to understand that what he perceived as a "weakness" was in fact his greatest strength, all the more after he became an empath. Iris whose mind was open to knowledge and revelations, who accepted people as they were, whose emotions were strong and pure even though she always had to keep them hidden behind her mask.

And some of the secondary characters were pretty good, too. Cam, who couldn't be himself and whose soul was slowly being snuffed out by his father's desires and blows. I especially liked Philomena, who could so easily have been a snotty brat, yet turned out to be a strong person, aware that the life her parents had decided for her may actually kill her (married and pregnant at 15, when her body's still almost that of a child's), and making plans to have a life of her own instead.

The setting was interesting: a dark, dangerous, quarantined London, 13 years after Dr. Jekyll's drug changed the face of the city by filling it with monsters derived from the original Mr. Hyde. Only men can be infected (the drug always kills women immediately), and they never know when they're going to change and rip some poor sod's heart. Either people go out with guns and machetes, or they'd better run very, very fast. And the poorer people, of course, don't have any choice in the matter, as they can't shelter themselves in some mansion or palace, living off what's left of past fortunes.

The depiction of society here, of what people believed and considered as "proper", was partly revolting, yet at the same time extremely fitting, in a "people reverted to even older Victorian values" ways. Relationships considered as unnatural. The upper class viewing the working class as faulty and even "deserving" of being killed by Hydes. The budding suffragettes movement crushed because there was no royalty nor parliament left to bring those ideas to. Women being victims in many ways (subverted in that those potential victims were also sturdy pioneers: Virginia, Iris, Philomena, Lady Cullum). Preaching the greatest values, while practicing hypocrisy on a daily basis. This was quite close to the dichotomy I've always found fascinating in Victorian mores, full of nobility, but also straying due to associating poverty with vice and laziness, for instance.

The romance: closer to the insta-love type (Iris and Elliot), but bearable. Elliot could fill emotions, after all, so obviously the attraction couldn't just be physical only: it had to be everything at once on his part. Iris's side of the romance may have evolved too fast, though. I don't know. As for Cam... that was beautiful. Sad, too. But beautiful.

Where the book was wanting for me was paradoxically in this setting as well, and in the plot itself: basically, I just wished for more. I would've liked to see more of those dark streets, more of the Hydes murdering people, so that what happened in the story would have had even more of an impact. Many plot points were also fairly predictable. It didn't bother me that much, because this was a case of "even though I know what's going to happen, I'm still excited and I'm thrilled when it does happen", but it could easily become a downfall: had I been in a different state of mind when I read the book, it may have dampened my experience.

I was also torn about a specific decision Iris made: incredibly dangerous and bordering on stupid, although at that moment she probably wouldn't have had many other options, and at least it allowed her to stay at the palace, something she had been meaning to do anyway.

Finally, I'm holding a grudge against the blurb, because it was misleading: I thought the characters would discover the plot's secrets together, but as it turned out, some of them knew a lot from the beginning—and at the same time, the blurb revealed a coupld ot things that, in my opinion, should've best been left for the reader to discover later.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed "The Heartless City", even though I keep thinking it could've been more than what it is. 3.5 stars for a pleasant read no matter what.