Monstrous Heart – Claire McKenna

From across the Firth of Styx, leaving her home city of Clay Portside in Lyonne, Lightmistress Arden Beacon has been assigned to the responsibility for the lighthouse in the port town of Vigil on the Darkling Coast in Fiction; the Beacons one of the many carefully preserved bloodlines, like those of the rival families Pharos and Lumiere, she is ostensibly Ignis Sanguine, her blood able to amplify the brilliance of a flame.

Unfortunately Arden is also sanguinem malorum, her talent developing late and weakly, a disappointment to her family, the Guild and the Eugenics Society who arrange and approve marriages, manipulating individuals to preserve and enhance the rare and precious talents within the population, and her life is not her own under the oversight of the lecherous Coastmaster Vernon Justinian who has made it clear that a union would be favourable to any future advancement she may wish.

Justinian is as tempestuous and capricious as the sea she watches, but at least his motives and desires are clear, unlike those of Arden’s neighbour on the rocks, Mister Jonah Riven, a man about whom everyone in Vigil has a story, the widower who is said to have murdered his bride Bellis Harrow, daughter of the magistrate, the fisherman who calls kraken, the monster of Vigil whose uncouth demeanor matches the warnings Arden has been given but whose actions tell another story.

The debut novel of Claire McKenna, Monstrous Heart is a fantastical steampunk romance of the waves and the rocks, of blood feuds and furious desires, of krakenskin coats and plesiosaur hunting parties, of ambition thwarted by the plans of secret societies answerable to nobody, and of a great deal of overcomplicated worldbuilding and backstory dumped like the haul of a fishing trawler swiftly and without grace.

“Well you might love the ocean, but a woman with fire in her blood cannot win such love back,” Arden is cautioned, but for all her determination she is driven by the resentment of a former lover, and it is between the memory of him and her current suitors she is now caught, the inconstant officer of the air force, the presumptuous pillar of the community upon whose favour she is reliant and the bearded and tattooed brute who rescues her when she is washed upon the shore naked save for her soaked silk undergarments.

While it is clear McKenna can write what she needs to do is to learn to write more precisely and economically for Monstrous Heart could easily be cut by a quarter, Arden’s endless questioning of whether Jonah Riven harbours any affection or lust for her, preferably both, insufficient to keep four hundred pages of lies, deceit, double crosses and deception afloat, the destination not worth the long voyage which precedes it.

Monstrous Heart is available from now from Harper Voyager



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