Book Review: Heartless, Leah Rhyne (2016)

May 9th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

I enjoyed the dark humor, but the plot could use some work.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

Me? I made a series of choices that tangled me up with some of the ugliest sort of people I could have imagined. I got my best friend, my boyfriend, even my parents involved. It’s been a disaster, and though the end has come for me, it hasn’t for everyone else. These bad guys won’t stop. No. They have big plans, regardless of the outcome of my little story. So that’s why I need to share it with you. Maybe if you listen, if you hear, you can help stop them.

Nineteen-year-old Jolene Hall attends (the fictional) Smytheville College, “a pricey and prestigious liberal arts school in the mountains of New Hampshire.” Her parents are loaded enough that she’s got her own private suite, though she does have to share a bathroom with her neighbor (and best friend) Lucy, an exuberant, 6′ tall redhead. She’s got a pre-med boyfriend named Eli and is rocking it in English class.

All in all, life’s pretty good. That is, until the fateful February night when she storms out of Eli’s apartment after a nasty fight – only to wake up, naked and disfigured, in a morgue. A rustic mountaintop morgue that is suspiciously rife with the corpses of attractive, college-aged women.

Terrified and disoriented, Jo – also known as Subject 632G-J – runs back to her dorm and enlists the help of Lucy and Eli to figure out wtf is going on. Their digging leads them to Jo’s self-appointed “Creator” – and a shadowy group that calls itself the Order of the Adversaries (OoA). Jo isn’t the only monster is town, but she is the first to escape. With the help of a underwear model-hot cop named Adam Strong, the trio must race against time to find the person(s) responsible for Jo’s murder and resurrection – and convince them to complete the job before Jo’s failing body falls to (literal) pieces. Disrupting their nefarious plan? That’d be icing.

Here’s the thing. I actually enjoyed the first half of the book. Rhyne’s got a morbid, sick sense of humor that really tickles me. Watching Jo learn about her body mods – while trying to keep them all attached – is hella fun. But around the 40-50% mark, the story starts to drag. The conspiracy feels unoriginal and a little cheesy (though, to be fair, maybe this is the point; see, e.g.: the Austin Powers femmebot reference) and isn’t very well fleshed out. The baddies read like cartoon villains, without a whole lot of depth or nuance.

And Jo? She’s rather unlikable. The first time we meet her, she’s picking a senseless fight with her sleeping boyfriend at 2AM. Rather than put it on the back burner for the night, she storms out of his apartment…right into the middle of a blizzard. Then she blames him for the whole scene. Later on, after her assault, kidnapping, and murder, she lets him take responsibility for not going after her…even though he kind of did! (He was on the staircase by the time she hit the street.)

The rest of the characters are more one-dimensional than anything else. Eli’s bland as white bread; their relationship is the biggest mystery of all. Seriously, they are just horrible together. The worst.

All in all, I think the book could have been at least 50 pages shorter. A more pared down story might prove more suspenseful. Rhyne throws in the occasional memory and flashback, I guess to humanize Jo and her friends and family, but it only slows down the action. Towards the end of the story, I often found myself skimming certain passages, and skipping Jo’s memories altogether.

4 stars for the dark comedy, and 2 for plotting and characterization. I’m more than little bummed with the second act, considering how much I liked the first. It’s a super-quick read, though.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: None. As far as I can tell, all the characters are white (and presumably straight).

Animal-friendly elements: Mostly irrelevant, though this little passage rubbed me the wrong way.

Eli appeared beside me and patted me awkwardly on the shoulder. Like a scratch on an old, decrepit dog’s chin, though, the contact was over far too soon as Eli let his hand drop. He shrugged. “How are you feeling?”

I don’t know about y’all, but I pet the fuck out of old dogs.

 

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