The Great Hearts, by David Oliver


The Plot

Two young boys named Calidan and Cassius are best friends who live in a sleepy mountain village. Their world is turned upside down with the arrival of raiders and a strange, nightmarish creature that feeds on human flesh. Displaced from their homes and forced to witness all manner of horrors visited upon their friends and loved ones, the boys flee into the forest. Struggling to survive on their own, the boys are befriended by a lone hunter who cannot communicate with them effectively, but appears to mean them no harm. Together the three find themselves followed by a giant beast, which Calidan finds himself drawn to.


Calidan – Our main character. He’s a brave and bright boy who shows fierce loyalty to his friends and shares a special bond with Seya.

Cassius – Best friends with Calidan, Cassius is a larger, stronger boy but is Calidan’s equal in loyalty and has a strong sense of justice.

Seya – A massive, intelligent panther whose origins are murky. She is a friendly creature who takes a liking to the two boys, but her bond with Calidan is strong and psychic in nature.

My Thoughts

This one is kind of a mixed bag – it’s Oliver’s debut novel and there’s huge potential here, and a lot of good things about the story. The relationship between Calidan and Cassius is well written and believable, I loved the introduction to Seya and the slow development of their understanding of one another. Seya in general is a good character and I enjoyed her a lot. The early scenes in which the boys weigh up whether or not they can trust the hunter in the forest are great, and that whole sequence was very enjoyable. The prose is functional and not overly poetic, but that works well for the story. And there’s some good worldbuilding that I thought was pulled off quite nicely – even when it info-dumped, the info was interesting enough that I didn’t mind. The concept of The Great Hearts and the eventual explanation we receive for their existence was especially good.

do think there are some issues that need to be addressed – the character development could use a little work; it would be nice to see more introspection and a stronger response to the traumatic experiences that the characters go through. My chief concern, however, is that tone-wise it’s all over the place. The story doesn’t seem to quite know what it wants to be. It starts out very much Grimdark, with vivid descriptions of the village being sacked, people being eaten and burned and raped and so forth. Then once the boys escape into the forest, it becomes a rather jaunty adventure story with some How to Train Your Dragon vibes, in which they largely shrug off the traumatic events that they have witnessed. We follow up with military fantasy when the boys go into training. Then later it plunges back into gritty Grimdark, before veering off into Sci-Fi. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually thought the ideas were very clever and interesting. But my general feeling was that this was an author with a lot of great ideas who perhaps tried to mash all of those great ideas into one book, where two or three may have worked better. It’s something that I see fairly frequently with debut novels and it’s certainly not to say that it’s a bad book. It’s not. But these are things that I hope will smooth out as the author develops. And I will be interested to see how this author develops. Overall, genuinely great ideas and I found it to be a good read with some issues that I believe will improve with the author as he becomes more familiar with his craft.

Score: 5.1/10

r/Fantasy Bingo 2017 Squares

  • Debut Fantasy Novel
  • Published 2017



Sting in the Tail


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