Heart Duel


Heart Thief

Heart Choice by Robin D. Owens
(Berkley, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-20396-4
Robin D. Owens opens her latest alternate-world romance with a wonderful conflict. Straif Blackthorn, the last of a noble house, is desperate to find a cure for the defective gene that ended up decimating his family, and if he doesn’t sire an heir, his family line will die out. So what will happen when he falls in love with a woman who can’t bear children?

Straif, like all Celtans, possesses a psi ability known as Flair. This takes different forms in different people, and Straif’s Flair is Tracking; he can hunt down missing persons by following their aura, visible to him but not to others. The Blackthorns’ genes make them susceptible to a deadly virus, and since losing his entire family at the age of seventeen, Straif has tried to outrun his pain by keeping himself on the move, searching for a cure and letting his family estate run down. Now he has returned to claim his rightful place as head of the Blackthorn house, which is in a monumental state of disrepair. To get the house functioning again, he needs Mitchella Clover.

Mitchella is a talented interior designer and one of the large Clover family, whose proliferation is legendary on Celta. Not so for Mitchella. She lost her ability to bear children during a childhood illness, and now she lives with her beloved young ward, Antenn Moss, a former gang member. Antenn’s Flair runs to architecture, and a commission to renovate the Blackthorn House will solidify Mitchella’s reputation. But Mitchella and Straif are instantly, unexpectedly, almost magnetically attracted to one another. Keeping things on a professional level will be difficult, especially for Mitchella as she gets to know this lonely, haunted man.

Straif knows he has a HeartMate, a person he will bond with for life. But he’s put off finding her, not wanting to commit himself until a cure is discovered. He’s more than happy to enter into an affair with Mitchella, even more so when he gets to know her better and discovers all there is to admire in her. She knows this will be nothing but temporary, and reasons (eventually) that she can keep her emotions under wraps and enjoy an affair on a purely physical level.

But Straif has a rival – an unknown person of Blackthorn descent who is challenging his right to the estate and the title because he (or she) lacks the defective gene. Whoever this person is, he or she seems determined to get rid of Mitchella, as well. As Straif tries to keep her safe, his emotions become ignited and he can no longer deny his true feelings. But he needs an heir.

Or so the story tells us. I was not completely convinced. Straif’s insistence on siring an heir seems to be based on the belief that his uniquely strong Flair will die out, a loss to all of Celta. But strong Flair of varying types can appear even in commoners (part of the plot for HeartMate), so this reasoning didn’t hold up well. The eventual resolution is staring the reader in the face for most of the book, intriguing though the story may be.

I have enjoyed all of Ms. Owens’ Celta novels and I hope she continues writing them. Characters from previous books make appearances here, and are instrumental to the plot without being overbearing. Straif is honorable and deft in his handling of Mitchella; this guy may have the hots for her, but he’s a gentleman about it. Mitchella isn’t the usual type of heroine, either. She’s strong, independent, and smart about her heart, which makes their eventual romance all the more satisfying since neither believes it can happen, and both are knocked completely off-balance when it does. It’s lovely.

The rhythm of this book lacked Ms. Owens’ usual smoothness. The narrative is rather flat, often choppy, and somewhat stiff, as though this book was easy to imagine but a lot of work to write. The style leans heavily on telling rather than showing, which is a pity because there’s a lot to show. Many chapters end with a terse declarative sentence, perhaps designed to heighten the suspense, but instead it feels forced. And there isn’t enough interior monologue to give readers deep insight into what the characters are thinking and feeling – instead, the author too often simply tells us. It’s a testament to the author’s creativity that I wanted to keep reading anyway.

The world-building continues with an inventive, well, flair, though readers new to the series won’t want to start with this book as a certain familiarity with Celtan culture is assumed. Straif has a Fam, a psychic cat named Drina who is imperious and self-absorbed as only a Siamese could be. This is a nice change from the first stories, in which the cat played a major role and was more of a sidekick. Here, Drina enters Straif’s life and announces she’s his Fam, but he’d be just as happy not to have her hanging around, and eventually keeps her in line by blackmailing her. It’s a fun twist.

I can easily recommend Heart Choice to any readers who have enjoyed Robin D. Owens’ previous Celtan novels. Her conflicts are always strong, her characters are people you’ll care about, the romance is strong and believable, and Celta is a vivid and imaginative place to spend your time. And best of all – at least one more Celtan novel is in the works. I can’t wait.

--Cathy Sova

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