I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger Warnings: Graphic depictions of rape, extreme violence, and cannibalism.
I listened to The Great Hearts on audiobook after receiving a request from the author and although I was starting to get tired of grimdark, I actually ended up liking this one. I will have to reiterate though: this is not for everybody. As with plenty of grimdark titles, this book contains a lot of graphic violence and other unsavory elements. Please heed the trigger warning if you are sensitive.
Before I start with the plot and characters, I really want to commend the narration. The Great Hearts is self-narrated by the author and the narration is fantastic. I can highly recommend the audiobook, if you like audiobooks. This is the first audiobook I listened to without a print or ebook/kindle copy of the book at hand so it took me a bit slower to get through. The listening experience is great, however.
The Great Hearts basically follows two friends: Calidan and Cassius, and is in Calidan’s point of view. It starts off in the future, with Calidan narrating the sequence of events that led them to a specific moment in the future. I will warn you that the beginning can be very gruesome to read, although it has, by far, the worst events in the book. From there, we follow them as they become wards of a general and receive training to become soldiers. Then, there’s also Calidan’s bond with Seylantha, one of the so-called Great Hands which were basically like big animals with enhanced capabilities.
The characters were pretty well-characterized. None of them really felt like caricatures or behaved in a way that I found very unrealistic. There are a few young characters here, and I think their actions correspond to their age and the circumstances in which they exist. There are a lot of good character relationships here from friendships to romance. There is a bit of romance here, but it’s more downplayed in favor of showing the characters’ friendships more, which I really appreciate.
There’s also Calidan’s aforementioned bond with Seya. I don’t really get to read a lot of books in which human-animal bonds are mentioned so reading this made me smile, especially since Seylantha is not a pet. She is respected as a Great Heart and is shown to be a very capable, graceful creature.
The world-building was confusing at first. There were mentions of a Cataclysm which didn’t really make much sense at the beginning. In fact, at first, it seemed a lot like the typical grimdark fantasy focused on military, demons, and dark magic. That is, until it really blew me away near the end. I won’t spoil much but the sci-fi aspect was both surprising and refreshing. I haven’t seen it done before and it really made for a fresh perspective on the happenings in the book.
The plot remains well-paced throughout. I liked how the sequence of events were narrated and there were chapters set in the future where we see how Calidan and Cassius turned out. The writing was also quite good and set the tone of the story well. For a debut novel, it really is quite impressive.
Overall, I can recommend The Great Hearts to anyone who’s a fan of grimdark. I believe it’s a standalone so it can also work well for anyone who doesn’t want to commit to a long series. Just be sure you can handle the graphic content.