Allison's Book Bag

Redheart by Jackie Gamber

Posted on: August 18, 2012

What I like best about Redheart are its misfit characters. There’s Kallon the dragon, who turned his back years ago on his own kind as well as humans, after his father was killed by a human. Kallon mopes around his cave, waiting to die, except when foraging for food. Then there’s the maiden Riza, who’s turned her back on her family and town because she doesn’t think like everyone else. After her fiancee cautions she’ll get “a burnin’ platform to stand on” if she keeps asking dangerous questions like whether the sky is just the beginning of the world instead of the end, she packs her bags and leaves. Finally, there’s Jastin, who hasn’t turned his back on anyone but tries to use both humans and dragons for his own revenge. One day they all meet and so begins Redheart, a great fantasy adventure by Jackie Gamber.

The relationships between these characters is another aspect that works well. At the forefront is the one between Kallon and Riza, whom Kallon rescues. A couple of years ago I tried to write a fantasy about the first encounter that a teenage girl had with a fairy in her backyard. Capturing the wonder and surprise of it all proved my biggest challenge. Next to that, I struggled most with showing how a friendship could even develop between two different species—especially two which were enemies. Gamber faces and quite successfully overcomes these obstacles. Riza’s relief at being rescued soon turns to shock upon realizing her savior was a dragon. Kallon himself wavers between regretting his choice to get involved and hoping Riza keep him company. For several chapters, their visits are similar to that  feeling one has when picking at a scab to see if the skin below has healed, in being sporadic and cautious. Eventually though, their true feelings emerge and solidify. A second relationship develops about the same time between Riza and Jastin, a human who proves gentler and more protective than her earlier attackers. Jastin sets her up with a job as a cook at a local tavern. One thing leads to another and soon Jastin is courting Riza. Yet as in real life, friends sometimes let each other down and even betray one another. Will it be the dragon Kallon or the human Jastin who betrays Riza just when she’s beginning to feel safe again? And which one will need to change their ways the most if Riza is to be saved? While I won’t share those answers, I will tell you that I appreciated that Gamber didn’t make any of her main characters all good or all bad. Both Kallon and Jastin actually do forge true friendships with Riza, but the prejudice of one endangers them all.

Another fabulous feature of Redheart is Gamber’s light-hearted touch. Book-lovers, upon discovering I like fantasy, often offer me adult examples, few of which I finish because I find their hardcore treatment of the fantasy realm to be dull. In contrast, Gamber had me sold on Redheart by the end of the first chapter. Kallon had frightened off Riza’s attackers, which is easy enough for a dragon to do, but less easy is deciding what to do with her. He puts his claw to his cheek and then he mumbles “Going to regret this” flying her back to his cave. I love his insecurity! In the second chapter, Gamber switches to Riza’s perspective. Kallon leaves to fetch her a drink, but Riza is suspicious about his motives. After all, he’s a dragon. At the same time, Kallon had saved her. “Maybe it brought her back as some sort of pet. Pet Riza. She giggled, imagining herself romping on all fours, chasing a stick thrown by a great, curled dragon paw.” For those of you who don’t appreciate cute, Gamber’s humor also shows up in sarcasm. Consider the scene where Kallon meets up with his wizard friend Orman. The two are talking about how things used to be when the Redhearts (Kallon’s family) were in power. Kallon tells Orman, “The Reds are dead.” When Orman rebuts with a disagreeable observation, Kallon blows a puff of breath that causes Orman to stumble. Orman mutters, “Still got plenty of breath for a dead dragon.” Most of Redheart’s humor however arises from Gamber’s style. Riza whispers to Kallon, “Riza, that’s my name, in case you were wondering.” Kallon “must not have been wondering, because he didn’t react.”

There’s so much in Redheart that makes me smile, I almost hate to mention its flaws. For example, although I appreciated the major characters, I can’t say the same for all the minor characters. Kallon’s wizard friend Orman initially reminds me of the silly monkey in The Lion King, who helps Simba realize that he must reclaim his kingship. Both the wizard and monkey grow on me, but they also seem more like comic relief than real characters. I never did understand the significance of Layce Phelcher, who seemed ridiculous speaking to Jastin from within his horse. Then there’s the descriptions. For the most part Gambler does a good job of setting the lay of the land or evoking atmosphere, but at times her descriptions are overwritten: “He nodded toward the wispy half-breed Blue standing in as a recorder, who dipped his claw into red ink….” Last—and this is admittedly personal preference—I didn’t care for the constantly switching viewpoints. Sometimes we’re following Kallon, other times Riza, then we switch to Jastin, and finally we even hear the perspective of the dragon council. The change in view only happens with a new chapter, but I still don’t care for this literary technique. I like to get inside the head of one character and stay there; but I realize many readers will be more accepting than me on this point. And so really what flaws I found were minimal.

Redheart is promoted as being about friendship, which is a sure sell.  In writing about two species who have a tenuous alliance, Gamber is also able to subtly tackle the issue of prejudice. Redheart is about something else too, which its young adult target audience should appreciate, and that is discovering one’s own destiny. Riza is expected to be like everyone else. Kallon is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. Both resist those pressures and in doing so find a better path. Seventh Star Press has already promised to send me the next book in the Leland Dragon Series. You can trust I’ll be back with a review!

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

2 Responses to "Redheart by Jackie Gamber"

I had not heard of this book. Thanks for your thoughts and the review. Hope you have a wonderful week. :O)

You’re welcome! I’m glad to introduce Redheart to you.

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