Friday, March 2, 2018

Book Review: 'The Heartbeat Thief' by Ash Krafton

Pennsylvania author AJ Krafton makes her debut (with this moniker) as a NA Spec Fic writer with THE HEARTBEAT THIEF. For those unfamiliar with the abbreviations, that is the category label for New Adult (those in transition between high school teenage years and full fledged adulthood - ages 16 - 30) and Speculative Fiction (a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements), and when combined New Adult Speculative fiction means stories that are more mature in content than typical teen ones are, and the main characters are discovering what it's like to be adults in the real world or fantasy world in this case. AJ is also known as Ash Krafton - a writer of all things spec fic who believes spectacular endings make the best beginnings, her published works being The Books of the Demimonde: an urban fantasy trilogy - `Bleeding Hearts', `Blood Rush', and `Wolf's Bane', and a stand-alone paranormal romance `Words That Bind' . But back to AJ Krafton's new book, a further definition of NA helps the reader to prepare for there story: New Adult is a category of books written for readers who are generally between 16-30. The books are punctuated by characters who fall within this age range; situations that focus on college life, independence and entering the adult world, sexual situations, and exploration of mature subject matter and themes that may not be appropriate for a young teen audience. Many New Adult books are currently romance oriented, and often sexual. But while erotica focuses on the sexual scenes in their plots, New Adult romances focus on the growing up portions of their plots.

AJ Krafton has a keen sense of historical or period fiction, the realm of Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, with a nod to Edgar Allen Poe. Not to say she borrows themes or ideas from these authors: she writes in the same vein but with her own take on mixing fantasy to enhance the story. Her writing is sophisticated and tight, just right for the odd but wonderful story she weaves.

An example of her style opens the book: `It had been many years since Edgar Allan Poe had published `The Masque of the Red Death', and it would be many, many more before Senza Fyne would even learn of the ghastly tale, despite her coming into the world the same year as did the story. On this particular night--a brilliant spring evening in 1859--for the first time in a long while, death was the farthest thing from her mind. Death had lurked like a spectre, dimming the sunshine of her ease, since her grandmother had fallen ill. Now, on the evening of her debut into society, the seventeen-­year-­old found a sweet respite. Excitement hummed through her veins as her family's carriage travelled through the warm spring dusk, sounds of crickets and night birds chattering their last calls from the trees. Even had she been inclined toward the dark art of the penny dreadful, knowledge of Poe's macabre masque would not have curbed her anticipation of this life­changing event. Tonight was to be a perfectly unmolested evening in Surrey, without shadow, without blight, without threat of the masked Death stalking her through the halls of the manor house, waiting for His chance to claim her hand and dance with her. Perhaps Death did attend the ball that evening; if he had, however, he hadn't pursued an introduction. Not quite yet. But now, here, on this night, she wasn't merely passing by. Senza had arrived. Her blood hummed, her head swam, her feet tingled in new kid boots. Imagine, she a guest of Lord Carter, at the grandest ball to be held outside London, upon the official start of the Season.'

The author's summary suffices to entice the reader: Haunted by a crushing fear of death, a young Victorian woman discovers the secret of eternal youth--she must surrender her life to attain it, and steal heartbeats to keep it. In 1860 Surrey, a young woman has only one occupation: to marry. Senza Fyne is beautiful, intelligent, and lacks neither wealth nor connections. Finding a husband shouldn't be difficult, not when she has her entire life before her. But it's not life that preoccupies her thoughts. It's death--and that shadowy spectre haunts her every step. So does Mr. Knell. Heart-thumpingly attractive, obviously eligible--he'd be her perfect match if only he wasn't so macabre. All his talk about death, all that teasing about knowing how to avoid it...When her mother arranges a courtship with another man, Senza is desperate for escape from a dull prescripted destiny. Impulsively, she takes Knell up on his offer. He casts a spell that frees her from the cruelty of time and the threat of death--but at a steep price. In order to maintain eternal youth, she must feed on the heartbeats of others. From the posh London season to the back alleys of Whitechapel, across the Channel, across the Pond, across the seas of Time... How far will Senza Fyne go to avoid Death?' `Death is not the end. He is the welcome home.'

We have a new heroine of YA spec fic. Welcome to AJ Krafton. Fine writing, this. Grady Harp, June 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.