Fiction Friday is a series where I talk about what I’ve been reading. Short Stories (and sometimes Novellas) are featured as in-between posts and the first Friday of the month will feature a new novel review. Today, I review Heartsong by Annie Douglass Lima.
Fiction Friday: Heartsong
Today’s novel review is Heartsong by Annie Douglass Lima. You can find it here. This is another small story on the YA scale and while it’s a unique idea in premise, I’ve had a decent amount of quirks with this story. So let’s jump in and see if this heart can sing.
What is your Heartsong?
The story focuses on Elizabeth “Liz” Hope Smith, a young colonist who suffers a dramatic setback as her home ship, the Laika, exploded, forcing her escape pod to crash land on the alien planet, Somavia. There, she meets the mysterious alien race, the Somavians, who are curious about seeing a human for the first time. Liz spends her life living on an alien world, but the human colonists return and settle on the moon, Soma. She must use her experience as a somavian student to be a mediator between the two species, or else endure an all out war.
While the premise is exciting, and there were parts I liked, I felt this could have been focused a little harder. The most immediate issue is the pacing. Liz spends her time learning all about Somavia and her people in a small, underground village, learning a language she couldn’t hope to understand fully as a human from another world.
The whole “learning about somavia” thing took up a good half of the book. One full half dedicated to being a somavian and learning about culture. Did anything dramatic happen? Well, a few times, but it’s too few and far between that it’s hard to see why Liz is being kept in the dark for too long.
Being an alien isn’t much of an excuse and they keep hiding things from her, and yet Liz doesn’t have the curiosity to disobey and search for herself. The gist is that someone, somavian or otherwise, wants her dead for being an outsider, but there’s a several chapter gap between one incident and the next. I don’t mind a good mystery as much as the next reader, but I’ll give an example. Upon starting this post, I’m on chapter 22, Liz begins to visit the human colonists so she can negotiate peace talks between the two races. So far, only two major incidents have happened. One on Chapter 8, and the other on Chapter 18. That’s a long time before anything interesting happens.
Granted, after Chapter 22, the story gets interesting and feels like there’s imminent danger. I felt the first half was too reserved for a character like Liz. Speaking of which.
The second, and biggest complaint I have is actually with the main character. Despite enjoying her time on Somavia and learning their culture, she’s disturbingly cynical about her world. She grew up in foster care and remained distant throughout the book, having suffered through numerous losses. So much so, that her only “friend” is her ebook reader called a Novareader (I’ll get to that in a bit).
She’s had some friends, but they all died when the Laika, her main ship, blew up and killed everyone on board. I see so many of those casualties referenced, but I felt it didn’t matter. Maybe if they were part of the story also, then it would have added more to them. Liz wouldn’t feel so lonely and her character would develop more.
Instead, she pushes everyone away, rejects bonds and friendship, and decries that hope is nothing more than a false ideal. Does that sound like a hero? Granted, she goes along with everything the Somavians do, but she has been through a lot.
Which makes me wonder if too much is happening to her. She loses her crew, ends up in a town that’s keeping secrets from her, suffers two major incidents, and towards the end, is with humans who want to rip her from the friends she made back on Somavia.
Anyone would grow cynical after that, but she’s like that from start to finish, and it’s gotten irritating as I read it. She sounds more whiny than actually suffering. “Whatever, I don’t care about anyone else. I have my books. They’re the only friends I need.”
Yet Liz doesn’t seem like the anti-hero type, and the two personalities don’t mesh well at all. It’s like she’s trying to be two different characters in one body, even though she’s enjoying so much with the Somavians, yet refuses to make friends out of fear of losing them. Fair, but it’s not executed well.
In addition to things not executed well, one recurring item that comes up is her Novareader. It’s basically a futuristic Kindle or Nook that she always has with her. She’s an avid reader and is the only thing keeping her sane in the chaos that has unfolded.
It’s a neat idea, but I don’t see how it affects the story overall. Sure the Somavians interact with it, and it gets a few upgrades, but as far as the story is concerned, it shows up and it basically shows off her character. Usually when an item like this is shown off, it has some importance to the story. It might be pointless at first, but it could be important later on.
I played a game a long while back called Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Explorers of Time (and Darkness). In it, your partner Pokemon has a relic fragment that supposedly is the key to a treasure long since hidden. However, the item has a grander power than that and shapes the plot going forward.
I couldn’t think of a reason how the Novareader impacted the plot other than it being part of Liz’s character. Not that it did much, since she used it as a safety net when things went wrong. Other than that, it had little impact and kinda got boring listening to Liz repeatedly talk about the Novareader so much.
Humans vs. Somavians
Halfway into the book, we finally get humanity’s first encounter with the Somavians, one I had plenty of problems with. As Liz returns to the moon, Soma, habitable enough to contain a forest/wasteland world, she encounters the current Governor, Mrs. Chang. Liz sought to explain that the somavians weren’t a threat and that the humans could trust them. IMMEDIATELY, they suspect that the Somavians are plotting an assault and never gave her a chance to prove herself, fully convinced that the Somavians were evil and wanted to wipe out humanity.
When I read this, I was stunned at how reckless they were towards them. Granted, the story hinted that humanity has been the conquering type and it’s explained why they attacked them in the first place, but I felt waging war went a little overboard.
This was the first alien species they’ve seen since…well, ever. You’re a group of people unfamiliar to them. Chances are, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them. Plus, it sets a bad example for humanity. Maybe that’s the point, but then I wondered how these people were vetted.
First contact should be so important, that conflicts like this should be an absolute last resort. Since they’re completely unknown to humanity, making friends with them should be the first option. Considering how hostile and cold the human colonists are towards the Somavians, who believe that they have an ulterior motive with Liz, the colonists felt the need to kill any hope of them invading their colony.
I felt the story should have started at this point. With them being on the colony and Liz being sent on the planet with her friends. They could have encountered the Somavians, learned their culture and potentially found out a secret power humans couldn’t discover. But perhaps one of the humans, seeking this power for himself, could be an outlier in the human culture and kickstarts the potential war with the Somavians.
That’s a book I’d read. It’d have the same elements, you could keep the learning sessions, the interactions with Liz’s “squad,” the incidents and bombings, and you’d have a more compelling story. Instead, it feels a little empty and slow. Which I feel bad for because this could have been a wonderful story had a little more time been spent on making the plot more engaging.
While it did have its fun and engaging moments, this was an average book at best. It feels like something is there, but if the story had a little more time to flesh out the plot, we might have had a fun story on our hands. Between the slow pacing, the cynical hero, and the humans who wage retribution the first chance they get, I had mixed feelings overall.
So that’s the story. I’ll have something planned next month, so be on the lookout for that. You’ll get 4 short stories this month due to how many Fridays will be in between.
That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.
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