When I saw Shealea of That Bookshelf Bitch asking for participants in a blog tour for Reign of Mist, I thought it was a good sign that I should finally get to this tempting fantasy series! Helen Scheurer, the author, was kindly providing review copies of both the new book and the first in the series, Heart of Mist, so I leapt at the chance! I’ve been excited to read this for ages, and it did not disappoint!
Book: Heart of Mist by Helen Scheurer
Read before: No
Ownership: E-copy provided by author for a fair review.
Heart of Mist opens with a classic fantasy trope we’ve all seen before: the plucky orphan with magic she must hide. I actually love books that start this way – it’s like the ‘once upon a time’ of the genre. It gives you a direct get-in to the world and makes a story feel comfortable and flow well. Even better is when, as Scheurer does here, that story then explores new and exciting elements of fantasy, taking that classic orphan into something very original.
Bleak, our main character, and the aforementioned orphan, is well-written and, if not always likable, at least always understandable. It’s very interesting to see a ‘chosen one’ who struggles to cope with their powers, and I thought Bleak’s dependence on alcohol fitted into the story well. She’s prickly and difficult to get on with, and you can see exactly how her experiences with her magic (and people’s reactions to it) have shaped her. Already, by the end of this first book, she starts to unfurl and become a little kinder, and I am excited to watch her grow in the next book.
I loved the concept of the Amazonian women of Valia. Their matriarchal (and indeed, almost entirely female) society in the treetops was just really, really cool. The Valians, especially Henri, are badass not only because of their fighting prowess, but also because of their acuity and clever power plays – this is a society I could hang out with for a good long while. Their tree homes kind of reminded me of the Channelwood world in the original Myst game – am I dating myself here? Also as a plus point for the Valians, we get some F/F romance (no spoilers as to who)!
In the Valia section of the book, we do get some hints about the divide between the kindred, who are the elite warriors who live in treehouses, and the people of the Sticks, who live on the forest floor – it seems there is some unrest among the regular Valians, and a rebellion could be on the cards further on in the story. Viewing this society from Bleak’s outsider perspective allows the reader to understand the inequality immediately, but I very much liked the differing opinions she came across. This is a diverse society, not a homogeneous one, and that’s a nice thing to see in secondary world fantasy.
I’m a sucker for a training montage, and I thought that the mental, physical and magical training that Bleak underwent with the Valians was worthy of a cool 80s soundtrack. More seriously though, it’s always interesting to see how mind-reading is dealt with in fantasy novels, because it really is an invasive power, perhaps more than any other. Bleak hates her magic, at the start of the novel, where as others view it as amazing – I thought that this was cleverly handled, especially in the scenes where Bleak learns to find memories. Her discomfort with this breach of privacy is clear, and I hope she never loses that very human reaction.
There’s another strand of story I haven’t mentioned, which is that of Olena, a blind princess, and Dash, her companion and the stable-master’s son. This courtly element, with whispers in corridors and the looming fear of arranged marriage, is very much up my alley, but it doesn’t really tie in to Bleak’s story at all. Only at the very end of the book do we get to see where these two strands might intertwine in future, and that makes me very excited. I like Olena immensely (a practical princess is always my fave), and I hope she gets to kick some ass in the future.
Overall, this is a gorgeous opening to a new trilogy that feels like classic fantasy. There’s a certain amount of set-up, as there often is with the first book in the series, but this was an enjoyable, quick read, and has massive potential to become a favourite if the rest of the books continue in such an exciting direction. I’m so glad to have finally got round to this, and it gets a well-deserved four out of five cats.