|Robin D. Owens continues her Celta series with Heart Quest, and fans of her world will not be disappointed. The Celtan trademarks are back in abundance, including psi powers and Fam cats. The romance is sensual and fun, and there’s a mystery in there, too.
Black Ilex Winterberry is a Guardsman in Druida City (think “detective”) and he’s on the trail of a serial killer, or perhaps killers. Young nobles who have not yet fully developed their Flair, or psychic powers, are being targeted in a gruesome fashion: their hearts are missing from their bodies, though lifted bloodlessly. Ilex fears that his attractive neighbor, Trif Clover, may fit the profile for the next victim.
Trif, who works in her family’s furniture business but doesn’t live in the family compound, is searching for her HeartMate. To that end, she’s fashioned a charm-key with which to test doors – with it, she’ll be able to figure out where her Heart Mate lives. Ilex has a secret: he’s Trif’s HeartMate, but he doesn’t want her to know. Ilex has had visions of himself dying a fairly young death, and since HeartMates traditionally die within a year of their partner, he won’t condemn Trif to a short life. Besides, Ilex is twenty years older than Trif. How could a young and vibrant woman possibly be attracted to a hardened Guardsman?
Trif’s Flair is that she can see past history. Her Flair is unstable and she hasn’t yet made her third Passage, which is similar to a vision quest and usually stabilizes Flair. When she is given a Fam, or a telepathically-linked pet, a kitten named Greyku, Trif decides to expand her psi powers by learning to teleport. Ilex offers to assist her, mainly to keep an eye on her. In the meantime, another murder occurs, and there are hints of the occult and ritual killings. Ilex has his hands full trying to watch Trif, track down the murderers, and hold his HeartMate at bay – a task that becomes more difficult by the day, and impossible once Trif discovers the truth.
Ilex is a terrific hero. Son of a noble, but dysfunctional family, his mother is an addict and his family House is in total disarray. This isn’t sugarcoated, nor is there a convenient happy ending for this part of the story. Ilex has removed himself from the family and forged a life on his own, but he’s not emotionally walled-off. When love comes into his life, he wants to grab it. None of the trite “I’ll never love anyone” nonsense; if it weren’t for Ilex’s concerns for Trif, nothing would keep him out of her bed.
Trif is portrayed as a gifted composer and musician who is basically stuck in a job at the family firm because she lacks the confidence to try her hand at music. She gets her chance in an inventive way, and this also helps to resolve a story line left hanging in a previous Celtan novel, Heart Duel. While Trif is only about twenty to Ilex’s early forties, the age difference didn’t seem to matter much. For one thing, the lifespan on Celta is something approaching 200 years, so in proportion, Ilex would only be about ten years older than Trif in our human years. For another, Trif is no silly young ninny. She may be a bit bullheaded about finding her HeartMate, but once she discovers it’s Ilex, Trif is quick to overpower his objections with logic – and sex. And they do steam up the sheets.
There were a few small plot holes, such as why didn’t Ilex help Trif use her powers to help solve the murders, since she can have visions of the past? But this was minor in the overall scheme. I especially enjoyed the reappearance of some characters from pervious books, and in trademark Owens fashion, nobody shows up to claim page space unless they have a good reason for being there. The character of Tinne Holly plays a major role here, and it will be interesting to see if Ms. Owens can craft a book around him, or if he’s forever doomed to be separated from his own HeartMate. He’s certainly a character worth exploring.
A teaser in the back indicates that the next book, tentatively titled Heart Match, will branch off into another of the Noble Families of Celta, with a link to Ilex through his cousin, Dufleur. With the fascinating world she’s created and the memorable romances set there, Robin D. Owens could entertain readers for years, and I sincerely hope she has plans to do just that. Heart Quest is a terrific addition to your reading list.