Review – Heart of Stone (Gargoyles #1) by Christine Warren

cover_heart_of_stone

Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Publish Date: Out Now
How I got this book: Netgalley

Ella Harrow is trying to carve out a normal life for herself. Well, as normal as an art geek with psychic abilities can hope for. As museum docent and gift-shop manager, Ella is able to keep her distance from people—and her powers in check—while surrounding herself with the artifacts she loves. But how on earth is she supposed to act normal when a thousand-year-old statue on the museum’s terrace suddenly comes to life?

Heart of Stone

Not your ordinary gargoyle, Kees has been asleep for eons, waiting for a portent of evil to wake him from his slumber. Kees isn’t a vision; he’s a bat-winged guardian created to protect the world from the seven demons of the Dark. Somehow, Ella triggered his reawakening. Maybe the demons have been unleashed? Maybe his heart is finally ready to be chiseled open? The fate of the world isn’t carved in stone…yet.

*blurb from Goodreads*

Not gonna lie. It’s really hard for me to resist a story featuring gargoyles. I began this book with high hopes and a lot of anticipation. Maybe I shouldn’t have hoped for so much, because I mostly felt let-down as the story progressed. I think if I could have erased the first few chapters from my mind, the story on the whole would have fared better by the end. However the beginning, in which I found disturbing subtext and confusing continuity issues, stuck with me.

I did not like how the opening scene reinforced the idea that sexual assault should be brushed off for the sake of keeping the peace. Nor did I appreciate that one of the first thoughts that went through Ella’s mind, as she assessed the danger, was how appropriately she had dressed that evening–ensuring not “an inch of exposed skin below her hyoid.” As if to say “hey, I’m dressed modestly, so the fact that a creep is staring at me in a lewd and threatening way isn’t my fault.” How a woman is dressed should have no bearing on another person’s inability to act in a respectful manner. Then, during her internal debate on whether or not she should let loose her power in self-defense, one of Ella’s reasons for not doing so was that she might harm the surrounding antiquities. So, priceless artifacts are more precious than her own life. Got it. After being nearly strangled, her mouth bleeding and her arm bruised, she decides to play the whole thing off so as not to piss off a wealthy patron of the museum and proceeds to lie to her female boss about it. Her female boss knows Ella is lying and knows what a louse the patron is, but decides to go along with it thus reinforcing the whole “brush it under the rug” message. Ella’s thoughts include things like not wanting “some kind of nightmarish scene involving lodging a complaint about the lecher’s behavior, or worse, filing some sort of assault charge with the city police” to later hoping she doesn’t get sued for boxing his ear in her attempt to save herself. The way this whole scene was laid out made me both sad and incensed. I would like to hope we’ve made more progress than this scene might imply when it comes to things like blame, shame, what a life is worth and the right to defend oneself.

I also was very confused about how Kees awoke. Right before he woke up, the narrative had switched from 3rd Person Deep (Ella’s POV) to 3rd Person Omniscient. At that switch, the narrative states that 1) Ella never saw the second attacker coming and 2) she witnessed the gargoyle coming to life. But, when Kees’ awakening was described later, the narrative stated that it was Ella’s scream that woke him up. As soon as Kees was awake, he immediately dispatched with the second attacker. But if Ella had never been aware of the attacker to begin with, she wouldn’t have screamed and he wouldn’t have woken up…but yet she watched as his stone shell fractured. I read that section several times trying to figure out what I’d missed before finally giving up. (A bit later, Ella stated in dialogue that she “did scream pretty loud when I saw [the attacker]” and I’m thinking “No you didn’t, you couldn’t. Argh!” I know, I know. Let it go.)

So, at this point, I’ve been irritated by the poor handling of a sexual assault and thoroughly confused by a major plot point on just how the heck Kees came to life in the first place. I’m not even out of chapter two.

Moving beyond all that, the conversational writing style flowed smoothly. I also found the main plot intriguing. There is an evil that threatens humans–a group of demons of the Darkness known as The Seven. These demons have minions who serve them known as the nocturnis. Gargoyles, who prefer to be known as Guardians, protect humans from this demonic threat. Once the threat has been defeated, they sleep for centuries in a stone shell waiting until they are needed once again. While asleep, the gargoyles are kept by The Guild of Wardens, human mages who have banded together to watch for signs of demonic uprisings and who call the Guardians when they are needed. The Wardens also look for and train the next generation of mages who will serve as Wardens and continue the Guild’s mission through the ages. Kees quickly understands that something must have happened to the Guild otherwise, Ella wouldn’t be so clueless as to who/what she is. Together, they must figure out what has happened to the Guild and stop the rising demonic threat. That’s the makings of a good series, right there. I just wish I liked the two main characters a bit more.

Ella initially comes across as a bit of a victim/damsel-in-distress. She doesn’t stand up for herself and longs for someone to come protect her. Everyone seemed to want Ella, and by everyone, I mean the men. The museum patron who assaulted her, the detective who questioned her, Kees himself. It felt like Ella was objectified at every turn, and it didn’t seem to either phase Ella or have a point in the narrative. Fortunately, Ella’s character didn’t stay as passive as the story progressed. She represented herself fairly well toward the end.

Kees typically stayed aloof and removed from the humans he protected, only ever interacting with his Warden and fellow Guardians. His attraction to Ella, or really any emotion other than those associated with battle, confounded him. I liked how he had to navigate the rocky waters of emotion and come to terms with feelings that were foreign to him.

The romantic relationship between Ella and Kees happened fast. There wasn’t much developmentment there at all. Kees had a near-instant sense of possessiveness for and need to protect Ella. Ella developed an insta-lust for super-attractive Kees as well. The only reasons I could deduce for this mutual attraction were the usual superficial ones seeing as how neither of them knew the other at all. I guess that’s all good, but I felt short-changed out of watching a relationship develop between two people.

As to the nature of Kees, I ran into another bug-a-boo. Although Kees sleeps for long periods of time, he is somehow able to stay aware of how the world has changed around him. But that really didn’t explain how Ella could just give him her address and then he could fly directly to it. Supposedly he hadn’t been awake for a thousand years, and had never been awake in Vancouver before, so it didn’t make any sense that he could zero-in on a modern day address, let alone her exact fire escape. I found it difficult to completely suspend disbelief that he could be so current as to magically dress himself in modern clothing (he may have “seen” things while in stasis, but what could he know about textiles and materials and how they are actually made?), be comfortable with modern technology, speak modern vernacular and understand/use words that should have no context for him–even if he had been in a meditative state while in stasis. I would have prefered some adjustment or strangeness to his awakening as that would have felt more realistic.

It’s gargoyles, so that’s awesome all by itself. There was some decent suspense and action toward the end. The main plot line holds the promise of more action in future. However, I ran into too many problems with some key story elements to truly enjoy this particular installment. Since the Guardians are a group of seven (seven demons, seven guardians?), I suspect there is more to come from this series. Indeed, Stone Cold Lover (Gargoyles #2) is scheduled for release on August 26, 2014.

I give Heart of Stone a D+, but I’ll probably still read Stone Cold Lover because GARGOYLES!!! Hopefully, since the next book will deal with a different couple, I won’t find the same issues there. Having said that, if the second book is more of the same, I’ll probably not continue with the series. Fingers crossed!

Comments

  1. says

    Have you tried Stone Guardian by Danielle Monsch? I didn’t see the review when I searched the site, but you might have read it. I suspect you can guess the subject matter …

    ReplyReply

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