Review: The Hearts We Sold

The Hearts We Sold
Emily Lloyd-Jones
Published August 1, 2017

The Hearts We Sold had an interesting blurb, so I took a chance on it because I haven’t read a good demon book in a while. I was expecting a YA urban fantasy and hoped it would be entertaining, but this deceptively simple book really blew me away.

The Hearts We SoldDee Moreno attends a posh boarding school. Because her home life is awful, Dee found herself a scholarship and got a ticket out of her house. Then her scholarship is revoked because of budgetary issues, and a desperate Dee makes a deal with a demon so she can afford to stay in school.

Dee’s parents are both alcoholics. Her mother is kind, but ineffectual, and her father is a cruel jerk who belittles her attempts to get a good education. She avoids them as much as possible, but she occasionally has to go home, and every encounter with her parents makes it clear why she is desperate enough to make a deal with a demon.

The demon of Dee’s world aren’t scary, fire-breathing monsters. They’re human looking, albeit beautiful, and they mostly blend in, except that there’s something just a bit off about them. They’ve announced their existence to the world, and they say they mean no harm. Not everyone believes in their existence, despite the announcement, and there are lots of internet conspiracy theories floating around about what they really are. Rumors abound that people can trade a body part to demons in return for what they want most, and when Dee meets a teenager with a prosthetic arm, she learns that the rumors are true. She seeks out a demon, hoping for a solution to her financial issues.

But this demon, known as the Agathodaemon, is different than all the others. He agrees to a deal with Dee, but he doesn’t take an arm or a leg. He deals in hearts: you give him your heart for two years and serve him, and you get money or power or whatever you request in return. A desperate Dee agrees to the deal without much thought, and the demon pulls her heart out of her chest and gives her a heart made of yarn as a replacement.

Dee soon learns that she may have made a bad bargain. The demon has a crew of heartless teens, and he sends them into strange voids that open up to something, perhaps another dimension, to close them up. The true nature of the voids is a mystery to the team, but they do as they’re told because they all want their hearts back and because the voids are apparently a threat to both the demons and humanity. The voids are terrifying places, and going inside one to close it up comes with the risk of being trapped there forever.

Dee starts out as a very closed off character. While she’s at school, she has acquaintances but no close friends. She gets along with her roommate, Gremma, but they’re not close. Dee doesn’t want anyone to know how bad things are at home, and by not getting close to anyone, she avoids having to reveal much about her life. She is entirely focused on the future and making a life away from her family, and there’s no room for anything else.

But losing her heart has the unexpected affect of opening the now empty space in her chest to other people. She and Gremma grow closer, and she begins to develop feelings for another member of the crew, James, who is a talented artist. There’s none of the dreaded insta-love here; Dee’s connection to James is a slow-building one. Dee’s gradual thawing toward the possibility of friends and romance is a wonderful journey.

I really enjoyed the authors’ take on demons. They’re scary, but in a cold, sinister sort of way, not in a red-scaled, horned, demon beast of yore kind of way. I found the demons all the more frightening because they are so seemingly normal.

The book has a diverse cast of characters. Dee is half-Latino, Gremma is gay, and other members of the heartless crew are African-American and trans. They’re all fully realized characters, and the author did a good job of having a diverse group of characters who are more than just labels.

I highly recommend The Hearts We Sold. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.





Review: Sparks of Light

Sparks of Light (Into the Dim #2)
Janet B. Taylor
Published August 1, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin

Sparks of Light is the sequel to Into the Dim, a book about a secret society of time travelers. I really enjoyed Into the Dim, and Sparks of Light is a worthy sequel.

Our heroine, Hope Walton, is recovering from her terrible experiences in 12th century London. She’s found a home with her mother’s family in the Scottish Highlands, and Sparks of Lightshe’s taken her place in the Viators, the group of time travelers. He mother and baby sister are safely back in the 21st century, although her mother is suffering from PTSD from the trauma she experiences while stuck in the 12th century. Hope’s love interest Bran shows up to alert the Viators that his mother, the Viator’s evil nemesis Celia, is plotting to get her hands on a device from 1895 that could give her enormous time-traveling power, something the Viators want to prevent.

The book gets into the action very quickly, and Hope and friends are soon on their way back to 1895 in New York City, at the height of the Gilded Age. Hope poses as a wealthy heiress and stays at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where she meets such real-life socialites as Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt and the inventor Nikola Tesla. The author has clearly done her research, and I really enjoyed her descriptions of 1895 New York, where the Viators see everything from dire poverty to unimaginable splendor.

Things quickly go wrong, and some of the party are trapped in a mental institution. This part of the book is particularly harrowing. Mental health care in the late 19th century is not for the faint of heart, and the “treatments” are horrible. Some of the patients are genuinely ill, but many of them seem to be perfectly healthy people who have been shut away for being “inconvenient.” Mental health care in the 21st century still has a long way to go, but it’s light years ahead of the supposedly scientific treatments of the late 19th century. As awful as the hospital is, it’s a private hospital with some semblance of luxury. I can only imagine how awful a public hospital would have been at this time. The book really makes it clear that being a woman at this time was pretty awful (and it’s also not a good time for the one POC member of the team, Doug, who experiences some virulent racism).

I did have a few issues with the book. A new character is introduced, Gabriella. She’s an old friend of Bran’s, and although Bran show nothing beyond friendly feelings for her, Hope is instantly insanely jealous of her. Gabriella shows up at the beginning and the end of the book, and she’s really underdeveloped. Also, Hope is still mad at her mother for keeping so many secrets from her during her childhood, but this isn’t really explored. I would have liked to see a scene where Hope and her mother has things out. The villain from the first book, Celia, is spoken of often, but she never appears on the page, and we meet some new villains instead. The new villains only show up near the end, and we don’t know much about them, so they felt a little weak compared with Celia in the first book. But these are all minor complaints, and I imagine these issues might be resolved in the next book.

Overall, I really enjoyed Sparks of Light, and it made me feel very happy that I wasn’t a woman living in 1895.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.