Title: CAROLINE’S HEART
Author: Austin Chant
Genre: Historical LGBTQIA Paranormal Romance, Horror-Ish
Publication Date: October 25th, 2017
Links: Amazon | Amazon UK | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Google Play | Goodreads
It’s no secret that I love Austin Chant’s writing, and the smooth, effortless way he weaves a story with a powerful sense of character, atmosphere, and enchantment. His writing is fluid, both weighty with meaning and delicate in word choice, craft, and construction. Chant has a tendency to take my expectations of a story and turn them on their heads, leaving me pleasantly surprised and longing for more. CAROLINE’S HEART is no different, making for a haunting, lovely, utterly satisfying read.
The heart knows its duty well. It hardly needs an invitation to begin beating.
Even if CAROLINE’S HEART arrived with the Halloween season and has an enchantingly haunting cover, it’s less horror and more a pleasantly spooky paranormal with a “what if Salem were in Texas” vibe. In this well-paced novella, Roy is a cowboy with a secret: he’s not quite like the other men. He was born male, but arrived at it by a slightly different path that others wouldn’t understand or accept in that time period. So he keeps his own counsel, rarely speaks, and is immensely careful about how much of his body he allows others to see. It’s an isolating existence, one that often leaves him withdrawing from others.
Until he meets the witch.
Cold and defensive, at first Cecily is annoyed by Roy’s eager curiosity, unwilling to let anyone close for reasons both deeply personal and startlingly similar to Roy’s. Yet Roy’s own employer throws them together, giving Roy a chance to pursue his curiosity…until it leads to a catastrophe, and the only way to save his life is for Cecily to give up the most important thing to her in the world.
The reluctant — at least on her part — romance as Roy recovers is charming, and fraught with secrets of a heavy heart. Secrets both personal and supernatural; secrets both quiet and stunning. Secrets she’s carried alone for far too long, and yet Roy is willing to help bear their weight if only she’ll let him in, trust him, and give them both the opportunity to accept each other for who they truly are.
She looks straight at him, not in the forthright way that some people do, but like a cat watching an insect.
WHAT I LIKED
- Chant’s writing is, as always, beautiful. He weaves a lyricism with his words that casts as much of a hypnotic spell as Cecily’s magic.
- The take on magic and witchcraft in the worldbuilding was delightfully different, unique, and utterly entrancing. I loved how Cecily used her magic to create prosthetics that saved people’s lives, even if (spoiler) that same gift in some ways led to the downfall of her beloved.
- The entire concept of the story, this romance between a cowboy and a witch who creates enchanted prosthetic body parts, is so entirely fresh and new, and not even remotely what I was expecting when I picked up the novella.
- Roy as a trans character in a historical setting was written in such an engaging way. He’s a wonderfully likable fellow with grit, heart, and honor, and I have to say his way of saying “Yes, ma’am” was swoonworthy and charming.
- Chant touches on the idea that we don’t know we’re different until someone tells us we’re different. As children we only know that we exist, and we don’t think of any of our traits or preferences as abnormal until someone tells us they are. We don’t apply labels to ourselves. Others apply those labels to us, and then spend the rest of our lives walling us into their sometimes restrictive, sometimes comforting, always complicated boxes.
“I knew as soon as someone told me, which was when I was quite young.”
- The story is at once heartwarming and heartwrenching, with believable, relatable emotions described with gentleness and empathy. It’s definitely a story about loneliness and isolation, how both the secrets of who we are and open demonstration of our differences can ostracize us from society and leave us aching for even one person to understand; one person who can accept us for who we are.
- The sex scene involving trans characters didn’t rely on genital essentialism to show intimacy between them, deftly handling describing it without delving into potentially clumsy or misgendering descriptions.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
- In a few places the writing didn’t flow smoothly, causing me to drift off from the story.
- There were a couple of spots where the passage of time wasn’t wholly clear. Maybe that was intentional to show the effects of living in witch-time, but it raised enough questions and confusions to jar me out of the story.
- (HERE THERE BE SPOILERS, LOOK AWAY FAIR CHILD, LOOK AWAY) I felt a little odd about how Cecily moved on from Caroline to be with Roy. Yes, Caroline’s been dead for five years, but not to Cecily. To Cecily she’s always been barely gone and just out of reach, her grief and desperate attempt to bring her back never quite letting her move on. She starts to let go when she gives Roy Caroline’s heart, and that final severing takes place when she destroys the enchanting frame to save Roy and realizes her spell wasn’t calling Caroline back; it was creating a construct derived from Cecily’s own memories. But even with that recognized and slow-budding attraction between Cecily and Roy, the finality of accepting that Caroline is truly dead and not coming back felt too immediate and harsh for Cecily to immediately move on to acknowledging the feelings she’d been fighting for Roy. Had she been indicated to go through more of the grieving and acceptance process during that five years I’d have found it less jarring.
In the end this paranormal romance is a deeply human story about love, grief, and acceptance, told against a backdrop that carries the same breathless wonder as a dark fairy tale. It reminds me of the pure childlike delight I feel when watching something such as The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride, taking something that should be macabre and weaving it into the delicate framework of something beautiful and heartfelt.
The human body is a complexity of anchors and pulleys, but Cecily has devoted herself to understanding it, tailoring the tension and slack of each spell-thread until the prosthetic leg can bend and stretch gracefully.
Chant weaves a story that moves with a machinery as smooth as Cecily’s prosthetics, resulting in a satisfying read that I would recommend for anyone who loves haunting romance.
Discover more about AUSTIN CHANT and their books at www.austinchant.com.
|5 STARS: PETER DARLING
Austin Chant’s fascinating PETER PAN reimagining takes us back to a Neverland that envisions Peter as a transgender hero – who’s all grown up and suddenly seeing Captain Hook and the entirety of his childhood dreams in a new light. [Read the full review]
4.75 STARS: TEAM PHISON
This Hong Kong-set M/M romance straddles cyberpunk and suspense, but misses the mark on Asian representation vs. stereotypes. [Read the full review]