I’ll just come right off the bat and say this book is NOT a reverse harem story, so if that’s what you pick it up for based on the synopsis, you will be disappointed. The first book in the “Ruined Hearts” series is all about the set up. It’s about introducing the reader to Eona, who can manipulate time. It’s about her adopted family and how she is kidnapped and taken to a place where magic is both feared and coveted. It’s about how she learns to use her abilities and about her abusive past that lead her to first discovering what she could do. It’s about her learning who she can trust and what true evil looks like while she is kept in the king’s court and trained by one of his top advisors. That’s what it’s about. The romance bit? We aren’t even teased to it until about 75% into the book.
The romance aspect aside, the magic, world building, and central conflict is interesting. MacKinnon does a wonderful job crafting her magic system, of showing the reader how it works through wonderful imagery. I thought the magical creatures were imaginative and had great personalities. The two warring kingdoms and the history between them was also teased well through chapter headings in the style of historical documents and each chapter starts with an illustration which I found to be charming. Eona was fine as a character, but I was often frustrated by her and her seeming ease at trusting her captors. There is a reason for it, but it wasn’t shown very clearly and therefore didn’t quite abate my frustration with the main character.
This is a slow burn book, everything takes its time in setting up the larger world, but not so much the main antagonists. I wanted to see more of the magic users Eona was up against, I wanted to get more hints of their duplicity and to feel something for them other than knowing they were hiding something from Eona. While the author takes her time in showcasing her world and magic, she doesn’t give the same attention to her characters and so when those relationships are introduced and start changing, they escalate incredibly fast—all except for Eona’s healer friend, their interactions were the only ones that felt organic to me. Because, like I said, that romance aspect doesn’t get hinted at until the 70% mark when we are finally introduced to the elf woman in the synopsis. Given where she’s introduced, you KNOW it’s going to be an insta-romance. Plus, that’s it for romance. There is no harem. We are introduced to who may be Eona’s romantic partners in the last few chapters of the book, but that’s it. Also, be aware that there are a few instances of implied sexual assault and attempted rape, I wasn’t a big fan of the inclusion as it felt too stereotypical since all the bad guys pretty much try to take advantage of Eona, but it’s not graphic, either. Just be aware it’s there in case that is something you’re sensitive to.
Here’s the thing, if you DON'T go into this book wanting or expecting a romance, you’ll be fine. It’s a creative story and an intricate world with steady pacing, even if it is a little slow until you hit that 75% mark, and then everything escalates super quickly. The illustrations are delightful and I really enjoyed how each chapter was set up. But what I was looking forward to was the mysterious elf woman Eona was to meet, I wanted to see how her reverse harem was set up and who her different partners were and how they interacted with one another. This book doesn’t have any, or very little, of that. I’m fairly confident that all of the harem aspects will be in the next book in the series, so if you enjoy the characters in this story that’s at least something to look forward to. But I ultimately just wanted so much more from the relationships these characters were supposed to have that I’m hard pressed to give this book more than 3 stars even with the uniqueness of the creatures and magic. But thanks to the author for providing me with a copy for an honest review!
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