The Great Hearts – David Oliver
Self published|315 pages|Fantasy|audiobook (read by author)
I received a copy of the Audible version of this novel as part of the TBRindr programme.
The digest: a mixture of interesting elements which struggles to come together to tell a compelling narrative. 2.5/5.
The Great Hearts is Oliver’s first novel and (I believe) his first time narrating a story and I feel like both of these facts are obvious from the offset. The narration is ‘good enough’ most of the time but suffers from editing errors and amplifies the lack of editing of the transcript. The author/narrator does an acceptable job, but had I paid full price for the audiobook I would have been disappointed. The following review could come off as a bit of a rant so I will start with the few things I did enjoy during my reading experience after the following Goodreads synopsis:
“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.”
Oliver clearly has a good imagination and a desire to work across the speculative fiction range as Lawrence does in his Broken Empire books, along with the ability to represent interesting emotional responses from the characters. The sense of lore is also good and whilst the worldbuilding could be better (and a bit less predictable), it is far from the worst example in self-published books. The sense of magic is good but not explored in enough depth to satisfy me, and there is a fair amount of intrigue when the plot requires it. I can’t discuss too much about the magic as it would be a spoiler, but the different systems in place could really have helped flesh out the story more and increased my interest in the characters and their relationships. There is some semi-detailed lore here, but we always seem to be given just enough for the plot to progress, or just little enough for it to present a problem. In Lord of the Rings, the characters all have different histories and knowledge, but here I felt as if they all knew very little (even the so-called experts).
The novel does, unfortunately, read like a draft not yet ready to be published, with massive variances in the plot pacing and its overall style. For example, the opening part of the novel is rather visceral and gruesome, focusing a lot on emotions I couldn’t really identify with, for later passages to be devoid of anything with any sort of feeling. Whilst we are not meant to like Lawrence’s Jorg, I feel as if we can identify with him/ understand his position a lot more clearly than Calidan’s here. Furthermore, the only truly consistent stylisation I could spot was the over-explanations (and melodramatic telling not showing) – story threads came and went, characters faded and reappeared, and the action was a bit dull.
The second main problem was the lack of continuity. Not that there are obvious discrepancies/contextual disagreement, but certain key characters get seemingly forgotten about for long periods of time, whilst others gain abilities with no true explanation, and the final ‘big bad’ (if you can call it that) isn’t even mentioned until the last 20% of the story. I struggled to connect with many of the characters due to their plot convenience or relative lack of time on the page (or narration), with only one scene truly being emotional around 2/3 of the way through. It seems that the author struggled to convincingly connect all of his ideas, with the stop-start storytelling style missing the mark. Furthermore, the book also focuses on (at least) two time periods, and whilst I hoped they would eventually all join up in a satisfying conclusion, they sadly did not, leaving me with questions about how the different timelines worked together and why the ‘future’ events needed to be present at all.
The author would have benefitted from cutting out the secondary timelines as well as some of the time spent between discovering the great hearts themselves and the concluding chapters. More emphasis or urgency towards the end of the book would have helped fix the pacing issue and perhaps could have made me care more about the characters.
In conclusion, the story simply is not polished enough for me to rate it higher than 2.5/5. It has rather large issues which made the reading experience less than enjoyable and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but those who find the synopsis very persuasive. I feel like the story was made public too early, and having an editor go through the latest draft would have led to a much better overall story. Don’t get me wrong, this novel is by no means awful, but it definitely not a polished finished product in my opinion.