Book Review: Monstrous Heart

Claire McKenna

Rating: 1 out of 5.

published: 2nd April 2020
spoilers? possibly


A sensational debut novel perfect for fans of Outlander and The Binding. This is gothic, epic, romantic fantasy at its very best; a tale of magic, intrigue on dangerous waters and a love story for the ages.

When Arden Beacon is sent to the lighthouse, she is simply a woman with a job to do. She neither seeks, nor expects, distraction. After years tainted by disappointment, Arden is finally taking up her family’s profession. She must prove herself worthy of her name, for she has nothing else.

But the coast she has been tasked with lighting is far from the world she knows – the salt-swept, backwater town of Vigil is battered by a sea teeming with colossal, ancient beasts. It is a place of secrets, rumours and tight-lipped expectations of a woman’s place.

More than anyone, the folk of Vigil whisper about Arden’s new neighbour, Jonah Riven, hunter of leviathans. He murdered his wife, they whisper – a perfect, golden girl, full of charm and potential. So very different to Arden Beacon.

They say he is as much a monster as his prey, but Arden cannot get this dark stranger out of her head.

Galley provided by publisher

CWs: sexual assault

This book had potential, but that is possibly the sole positive thing I can bring myself to say about it. The synopsis sounds promising but it ends up becoming yet another fantasy world replete with misogyny and rape culture.

It would be fair to say I knew this wasn’t the book for me within the first couple of pages, so I’ll get this point out of the way to start with. Me and the writing just didn’t get along. It wasn’t bad by any means. It just felt very purple-prosey and I don’t like that. So, at least some of the following points should be taken with that caveat.

I’ll start small and get bigger in this. The characters fell pretty flat for me. Possibly outside of Arden and Riven, everyone else could be summed up by single descriptors. I know they’re side characters and all, but some, especially the bad ones (*cough cough* Bellis *cough cough*) were almost caricatures in how one-dimensional they came out. Especially the aforementioned Bellis, who, we are told is cunning and manipulative, but… does not seem it when you meet her. Arden and Riven only really came out a little better because Arden was the main character, and Riven had the whole ooh they think he’s a monster storyline going on.

But the real kicker in this book is that somehow, somehow, in a world that seems closer to high than urban fantasy, there is still a hell of a lot of misogyny and rape culture. From the beginning, the Coastmaster is identified as a creep who cannot take no for an answer, and within about a quarter of the book, he has already sexually assaulted the protagonist. And that’s not all! It’s a constant stream of “women can’t do this” “women can’t do that”. Like if I wanted this, I’d read a fantasy written by a man. There is nothing revolutionary about a fantasy world featuring misogyny, especially when it doesn’t get pulled apart in any meaningful way. But it’s okay! There’s a scene near the end where a woman sexually assaults a man! Equal opportunity sexual assault here! (I’m being sarcastic…just in case you didn’t realise.)

And then to top it all off, this is a society that regularly practices in eugenics (there is a handily named Eugenics Society who make decisions on who you can marry!), and still no commentary on it.

So while there was potential to this book, it definitely did not meet it for me.

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