The Great Hearts by David Oliver

Series: N/A #1 Rating: 3.5/5
Date of Publishing: December 17th 2017 Genre: fantasy, sword & sorcery, epic fantasy, coming of age, dark fantasy
Format: Kindle Available: Amazon
Number of pages: 324 Author’s website:

Quote of the Book

“The ecstasy I felt in my stomach as she was groomed was incredibly intense and made for an awkward moment when I practically purred instead of responding to a pretty nurse’s question.”

Blurb

Calidan Darkheart is an Imperator. The voice of the Emperor in the wild. A secretive and dangerous job, hunting down those deemed a threat to the Emperor's rule...whether monster or man. Twisted and bitter, he heads down a dark path to hunt a nightmare from his youth.
This is his story.

The first instalment of a new series, David Oliver's debut novel features mythical beasts, epic sword duels, dark rituals and a friendship for the ages. Following in the footsteps of authors such as Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie and Brian McClellan, The Great Hearts melds gritty, vivid action with the soft, warm purr of a gigantic panther.

Personal notes

I’ve got a digital copy of this book in exchange of an honest review. This was already on my TBR when I’ve got a request to read it, so I was totally up for it. It took me a while to get to it though, but man, it was worth the wait.

The Great Hearts is also an entrant in SPFBO, assigned to The Qwillery. Check out my SPFBO4 page for more reviews and to follow our progress.

Song of the Book

I don’t quite know how it occured to me that I should choose a Shaman’s Harvest song, but soon enough I found myself looking at the lyrics of their latest album. Devil in Our Wake seemed like a perfect choice.

Review

I’ve been reading quite a lot of books this year and after a while they tend to melt into each other. So when you come across a book which you can’t stop thinking about, then that’s something. I’m quite sure I didn’t enjoy my next read quite as much as I should have, because my mind was still lingering on this one.

The Great Hearts is Calidan and Cassius’ story, followed by Calidan’s POV in first person. They are childhood friends, or more like brothers, really. They lose their family and their home during a horrible night which no children should witness. This pretty much sets the tone for the book, bordering on grimdark but not quite overstepping the line. So Calidan and Cassius has to get as far away as they can and survive in the forest without any weapons or knowledge where to go. Circumstances make them team up with a mysterious figure, whom they only call Tracker for obvious reasons. The little “family” forms finally when Seya, the giant panther arrives in their lives and bonds with Calidan. Seya is something people refer to as a Great Heart, although no one really knows much about them: where did they come from? How many there are out there? How they choose whom to bond with? We’ll get some answers by the end, but… okay, I’ll get back to this. Suffice to say Calidan’s senses become stronger giving him an advantage against others, plus drawing from Seya’s power, she can heal him from almost anything.

“The ecstasy I felt in my stomach as she was groomed was incredibly intense and made for an awkward moment when I practically purred instead of responding to a pretty nurse’s question.”

Their lives get a turn for the better and get admitted to an Academy thanks to a general named Kane and a military leader Tyrant who teaches team a form of martial art called Kaschan.

“The fluid movements of the systemare meant to account for different weapon styles, the spinning use of a greatsword moving in sync with the more delicate moves of a dual blade wielder for instance. Much like dancing, the system works better with a partner, steps moving in sync, bodies moving as one; enemies falling like wheat to the scythe.”

When they learn about his bond with Seya, Calidan learns that he has no choice of what he wants to become: he has to train to be an Imperator, the voice of the Emperor, whose job is to hunt down those who break the law, and fight against dark powers. On one hand, I really liked the concept of the Academy: 8 students lived together and formed a team from the beginning of their studies until the end. They not only lived, but laughed, cried, fought together, helping each other along the way. They had become the family Calidan and Cassius lost on that dreadful night. On the other hand this Academy is brutal, and though does not encourage the kids to be cruel to each other but doesn’t really stop them. And when something happens, they chalk it up to “well, that’s how the world works, get used to it, you are going to face worse things”. Based on other’s opinions this point in the story might be an instant turn off for some people.

Until about the 70% mark we follow Calidan and his friends as they easy into the routine of their lives in the Academy, as well as glimpses into his life in the present, making into a coming of age story. Then we follow them as they are going on an expedition with some of their teachers and some Imperators. This is where things get… strange. They seek knowledge about the Great Hearts, trying to understand where they come from and what they really are. What they find is something I totally didn’t see coming and caught my unaware. From this point on things get a bit rushed and ends with a cliffhanger. Also, we are left behind with some questions and though in some cases we can guess what might have happened, I would have liked some explanation and a less sudden ending.

I liked young Calidan and the way he coped with the circumstances. He is a real survivor type, but he also has a big heart. He cares about Cassius and Seya as well as the others in his team later on. Since we spend the most time in his head, it’s easy to sympathize with him, but on the other hand we don’t get to know the other characters much. The most memorable – apart from Saya of course, it’s hard to forget a big ass black panther – is the Emperor himself with his friendly demeanor and good heart. Probably. And one other character about whom I won’t talk here.

The Great Hearts is an interesting debut dark fantasy book, which needs a bit of polishing, but otherwise has some nice qualities: it’s a coming of age story with intriguing characters, gritty scenes and a great potential. It’s far for being perfect, but I’m interested what will come out of this series.

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