Evil at the Heart
Evil at the Heart by Australian Kelly Grant is an original and ambitious first novel. Set in Italy in the late 1300s / early 1400s, the story follows Captain Septimus Rovero and novice Brother Matteo as they journey to the isolated Abbey of the Blessed Hearts with their not-so-merry band of mercenaries. Their intent is to determine if Caterina Valaresso, last seen outside the abbey sixty years ago at the age of 15, is still alive. The Lord they serve, Count Ferrar, wants to have land held in her name deeded back to his family.
What initially appears to be a simple quest becomes a dangerous journey as snowfall, bandits, and angels intervene. Once the travelers arrive at their destination, they find the Abbey abandoned and destroyed. As they try to leave, they are trapped with an ancient, seductive being who is intent on using them as her vehicle for release. The story interweaves a tight net of suspense from the traveler’s efforts to escape with the story of the young Caterina’s unsuccessful attempt to save her Abbey from the evil force the travelers now confront.
Ms. Grant does an excellent job of characterization throughout. We see personalities, we see growth, we see motivations develop and then change — all things one should expect from a good quest. With a quest, the journey should always be metaphorical as well as actual or it’s just another action/adventure flick.
I enjoyed many of the elements of Evil at the Heart – the journey, the characters, the plot, the action, the world-building, and the eventual satisfying conclusion. It was a book that begged me to keep reading. It succeeded in drawing me in. I cared about these characters and what happened to them. I was pulling for them. I believed.
In addition to the believable and varied characters (including some who provide just enough comic relief to break up a tale that would otherwise be unrelentingly grim ), Ms. Grant has a thorough knowledge of how to dress her scenes with the clothing, implements, furniture, and weapons of the era. These details help to give the novel an appropriately historic feel.
But…if I had paid the retail price of $4.99 for the book, I would have been appalled that an author would charge that price for me to read through the wealth of grammatical errors. For a buck, maybe I would. For a buck, I know I am probably getting something that isn’t the work of a professional. For a buck, I expect to take my chances on quality, but I do not expect to take my chances for $4.99. It’s not like five dollars is a fortune, but it *is* a level at which I expect to get value for my money. (Note: I downloaded this book for free on a free promotion day.)
Let me make it clear that the book is not a complete mess. With the exception of a few homonym errors, the spelling is good. Unfortunately, there are a fair number of editing errors (words that were left out and tenses that were not updated when a sentence was changed during the editing process) that a good proofreader would have caught. And then…the commas – the author approaches this innocent punctuation with murderous intent!
Believe me when I say that I don’t want to write an entire paragraph of this review about commas. I’m going to do it anyway because once I got through upwards of 50 comma errors in the book, I was forced to come to the conclusion that the otherwise obviously accomplished author really has no idea how to use them, and she also couldn’t be bothered to pick up a copy of Strunk and White (or the Australian equivalent) to help herself out. I would not expect an Australian writer to use serial commas (a purely American affectation), but I do expect adherence to internationally shared standards of English grammar. Self-publishers who expect to be taken seriously should not randomly “punctuate by feel”. The comma errors make many sentences awkward and difficult to read, and it is just plain irritating when commas show up where they have absolutely no business being.
The second annoyance, a surprising flaw in an otherwise well-researched historical setting, was the anachronistic cursing. There is nothing quite so historical-fantasy-shattering, assuming you have finally stopped obsessing over commas, as getting slapped up the side of the head with a bit of modern slang. In the 12th century, you would not be accused of “wanking” like you would in a British schoolyard. You would not be subject to the interrogative, “The f***, Rico?” like you would in a U.S. high school. My OED informs me that the word “wank” did not even appear in the language until the 1950s, and although the F word has been around for a good long time, it was originally a descriptive word not a curse word. Twelfth century folks would have tended to curse in the traditional sense of the word by disrespecting the gods because that was *really* naughty.
In the final analysis, do I recommend Evil at the Heart? No. I would have liked to have given it a hearty recommendation because it was original and often engrossing. However, given the state of the editing, I think it is priced too high to be a good value, particularly for readers who expect to receive a finished product for their money.