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Faerie and the fair - ‘Heart of the Fae’

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Fantasy romance reimagines a classic tale

Finding new ways to tell classic tales has always been an integral part of literature. When you boil it all down, there are only a relatively small number of stories to be told. After that, it’s about putting together the right details and finding an interesting and engaging angle.

Take “Beauty and the Beast,” for example. It’s an absolutely beloved tale, but there’s a reason for that – we’ve seen some EXCEPTIONAL renditions of that story. And while it has remained at or near the forefront of the pop culture imagination for years, that proximity has meant that we’ve gotten some less-than-stellar takes recently.

Emma Hamm’s “Heart of the Fae” lands much closer to the positive end of that particular spectrum. It’s a book that attempts to bring together the classic, familiar narrative with elements of Irish mythology that will likely prove far less familiar to readers – a fairy tale recast with actual fairies.

A terrible plague is spreading across the land; people are dying all over and there doesn’t seem to be anything anyone can do to stop it. Sorcha is a gifted young midwife living in a brothel under her adopted father’s care. But when he takes ill and is given just weeks to live, Sorcha is left with no choice.

See, her now-dead mother was one of the few who still believed in the faerie folk, teaching Sorcha to respect their power. And so, Sorcha asks the Fae for a favor, knowing full well that such favors come at great cost. She is tasked with a quest: to journey to a magical island and convince the forgotten, monstrous king who lives there to return with her. As you might imagine, it’s no easy feat.

This king, who Sorcha comes to call Stone, is the rightful ruler of the Seelie Fae. But when his twin brother’s treachery led to the revelation of a tragic secret – it was not blood, but crystal that ran through his veins – Stone was banished to a crumbling castle on an island populated by forgotten pixies and sprites.

Sorcha is both repelled and entranced by Stone, with his demeanor as spiked as his scars. But even as she grows closer to him, she is swept into the intricate intrigues that surround his royal stature – all while desperately seeking the chance to save the people she loves.

“Heart of the Fae” captures the essence of the familiar tale while finding ways to render it as something new. The world-building is strong – the complexities of Hamm’s fairy hierarchy create an underlying richness and there’s a welcome vividness to her descriptive efforts of the various fae. The relationship dynamics are sufficiently strong, offering opportunities to care about not just our heroes, but those who surround them as well.

Obviously, that central relationship is key. And while there are occasional moments where one or the other gets a bit too insular and interior (which puts a slight drag on the pacing), for the most part, Hamm shifts easily among the tones, attitudes and perspectives.

This book is the first of two parts. But while it leaves open the necessary doors to continue the story, “Heart of the Fae” doesn’t fall into the trap of being mere exposition; it tells a full and satisfying story even as it sets the stage for the overarching conclusion.

In the end, Hamm has made this tale her own. “Heart of the Fae” is a fantasy romance that will appeal to fans of either genre. 

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