Heartseeker, Melinda Beatty, Hardcover, 336pp, June 2018, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Full Disclosure: I know Melinda Beatty. I know her because she is a bookseller at my glorious local indie, The Curious Iguana. We have never spent time together outside that context: book lover who sells (and writes) books and book lover who buys (and writes about) books. And, to be clear, I bought my copy of Heartseeker. Gladly. I will likely buy a few more for relatives and friends.
I’ve been lamenting of late the lack of books with electric plotting, memorable characters, and artful prose, the kind of books that grab hold of you, pull you into their universe, and stay with you for more than five minutes after you’ve finished them.
Melinda Beatty’s debut (DEBUT!) novel, Heartseeker, checks all of those boxes and more.
Only Fallow, six years old, lives in small, simple Presston, youngest of three in a family whose father’s cider is favored by King Alphonse, bringing jealous attention to Only and her brothers, Ether and Jon. Feeling like an outcast, Only is drawn to Lark and Rowan, two children of the Ordish, the traveling folk rumored to have gifts of cunning and magic, who help Only’s father each season with the harvest and are much looked down upon, distrusted, and discriminated against by the subjects of King Alphonse, whose agents have been kidnapping Ordish children, using them as slaves until their relatives can raise the ransom for their return. Only feels especially akin to the Ordish when she discovers, with the help of her grandmother, Non, that she has a cunning of her own: she can see lies. Too, her gift comes with a price: if she herself lies, she is stricken by great pain, a seizure-like blacking out. Non advises Only to keep her gift hidden, but through twisted-misadventure, rumor of Only’s abilities reach the King, who believes such an ability to discover liars will help him save his kingdom which is in disarray. But truth being told and liars being revealed are the last things some in the kingdom want to happen, and they attempt to stop Only from taking her place at court in the enormous city of Bellskeep, a role she has only agreed to in order to save her family.
I am rat-rotten at synopses, but that’s a rough-ish outline of 336 pages chockful of adventure, plot, surprises, and fascinations. Melinda Beatty clearly has a cunning, herself. She has built a world utterly unique and wonderfully believable. Her introduction of its specific vocabulary, traditions, belief systems, and social structures is seamlessly, skillfully done by using context and dialogue. There is no pedantic, dull-as-dirt back-story-ing to interrupt the action, the world is made and the characters come to life through the telling of the story.
And what a story! Only Fallow is a likeable, trustworthy narrator and you want to go with her, warn her, stop her, help her, urge her on, hug her, protect her. Her Ordish pals, Lark and Rowan are also attention-grabbing and vitally alive, worthy of their own tales. The there’s the court intrigue. And the love story Only’s brother Jon is one half of (I don’t want to give any more away than I already have). And grandmother, Non, I can’t wait to spend more time with her.
Heartseeker, labeled Middle Grade, is also wildly enjoyable for adults. Enjoyable as in: remember that feeling you had as a child when you discovered Harriet The Spy, or Little Women, or Portnoy’s Complaint (I was a very precocious child)? Heartseeker draws you in with that same entirely other yet also totally familiar world, as in, it’s clearly outside your day-to-day reality, but the emotions and behaviors are on-point, from the heart, as if the author had culled her story from inside your head and dreams.
Melinda Beatty has that cunning of gifted authors who can fabricate riveting, riotously readable tales that elucidate real-life emotions and experiences.
I eagerly await volumes 2 and 3. And, in fact, anything else Melinda Beatty writes. I suspect she will be too busy soon inventing other worlds to sell me any more books, but that’s okay, she’ll be selling lots and lots of books in a new and exciting way by sharing her work with the world.