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REVIEW: To Target the Heart, by Aldrea Alien

REVIEW: To Target the Heart, by Aldrea Alien

Title: To Target the Heart

Series: Spellster Series Book 2

Author: Aldrea Alien

Genre: High Fantasy, Romance

LGBTQ+ Category: Gay

Publisher: Self

Pages: 598

Reviewer: Dan

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About The Book

How can he win with the odds stacked against him?

Prince Hamish has no interest in fulfilling his duty of marrying. Not to a woman, at least. That doesn’t stop his mother, Queen Fiona, from presenting him with every eligible noblewoman that enters their castle. He’s certain it’ll be no different with the representative of the Udynea Empire.

So when they do arrive, Hamish is relieved the imperial prince, Darshan, is not the woman everyone expected. Until the man kisses him and Hamish is confronted by the very emotions he has been forced to conceal or be punished for. Emotions he is eager to explore.

But the kiss proves to be a little too public and leads his mother to take drastic measures to ensure Hamish adheres to her family vision. The contest of arms will force Hamish to make a choice: give up his happiness for convention’s sake or send the kingdom spiralling into civil war for the right to love his own way.

*This book contains violence, attempted suicide and explicit adult themes.*

The Review

A follow up to In Pain and BloodTo Target the Heart takes place in the same fantasy world of spellsters, elves, and dwarves but has little to do with its predecessor. It shares no characters or plot threats, so it isn’t necessary to read In Pain and Blood first.

I feel about this book much the same way I felt about the first Spellster book. I liked the writing, I enjoyed the characters, I do not understand the insistence on having such intense homophobia in a fantasy setting, and I found the sex scenes too frequent.

Hamish and Darshan are great characters (despite Hamish’s phonetically Scottish accent). I really liked them, the way they interacted with each other and the other characters (especially Hamish’s niece and nephews), and how they navigated their foray into a new kind of relationship. They explored each other’s cultures openly and discussed the harder points of cultural differences, like slavery and religion.

The plot of the book held together relatively well, although with how badly Darshan screwed up his mission as a trade negotiator, I’m desperate to see how things play out when he arrives back at the palace in Udynea. I don’t know if we’ll get that answer since the books in the series seem to have little to do with each other so far.

I think I would have enjoyed this book much more thoroughly if almost all the plot hadn’t hinged on Hamish’s mother’s rabid and unique homophobia. While most everyone else in Tirglas takes the relationship between Hamish and Darshan in stride, Queen Fiona remains viciously homophobic to the end. I couldn’t tell how the author intended her to come across (a mother protecting a son who’d previously been raped as a young teen, a despotic control freak, a grandmother in deep and erratic mourning, an abusive religious fanatic, or some kind of bloodthirsty madwoman), but the overall result confused and discomforted me. 

Fiona stood out as an antagonist for the sake of having an antagonist. Her insistence on Hamish’s marriage could have been done in a lot of ways that didn’t make her so rampantly and irrationally hateful. In a fantasy world with heightened political states, racial tension, and magic, conflict can come from anywhere and I understood that the author drew on a historical setting, but I would have liked the edges smoothed, or things explained and resolved better. If the target audience is queer people, I don’t think we need to read more vicious portrayals of people who hate us and never change. 

No topic should be off-limits to an author. I’ve tackled homophobia in my own work. However, there’s writing about homophobia and then there’s writing a mother who has all her son’s known lovers murdered in cold blood.

I’d like to see more from the author, however, if homophobia continues to be a major plot point in the series, I think I’ll have to set the books aside for reasons that have more to do with living under a president actively working to repeal LGBTQIA rights than with the author’s quality.

That being said, I found this installment of the Spellster series well-written and interesting with strong characters who played well off each other and their setting.

The Reviewer

 Dan Ackerman is a writer and educator who has lived in Connecticut for their entire life. They received their BSED from CCSU in 2013 and wrote their Master’s thesis on representations of women in same-sex relationships in contemporary Spanish literature and cinema. Currently, Dan is studying for a second MA in ABA and works in a center school for students with a variety of intellectual, developmental, or multiple disabilities. In their spare time, Dan continues to read and write, supplemented with a healthy amount of movie marathons and gaming.

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