What's an urban fantasy book without magic and wizards? What do you get when you take vampires and add to them dragons, djinns, selkies, and gargoyles? Heart of Stone, while not exactly original, is different. That works in its favour.
As I began my post legentem dissection, I discovered that there's a lot about Heart of Stone that, taken alone, doesn't work. For example, the dialogue is lacklustre and occasionally even groan-worthy. In most books, this isn't a plus, but it's particularly problematic here, because the protagonist is a lawyer (hence "Negotiator Trilogy"). Her weapons are words, not swords or magic. And I like that. So even as cool as Margrit is as she makes deals with dragons, sometimes I couldn't enjoy her wordplay as much as I should.
Likewise, the relationships in this book don't plumb the depths. I found Margrit's hesitant relationship with cop Tony the most interesting, perhaps because it's so flawed. They're on again, they're off again . . . they want to try to make it work, but suddenly she's involved in his murder case and hanging out with the number one suspect. The tension between Margrit and Tony as a result of their opposite views on the justice system is also both topical and germane to their characters. It's difficult to both make characters seem like they have a relationship yet work their relationship into the main conflict as well, so C.E. Murphy deserves praise for that.
Creepy stalker points abound for Alban Korund though. To Murphy's credit, Margrit doesn't swoon and suddenly declare herself unreservedly trusting of Alban's attitude. In fact, she's downright hostile toward him during their first few encounters. Nevertheless, there's a certain sense of … knowing, a reservation in the way she deals with Tony, that I don't quite follow. Margrit may be sceptical, but she's also very irrational (considering the mantra Murphy repeats throughout the book, however, this is probably intentional).
Mmm … dialogue, characters … oh yeah, plot. Also not very impressive by itself. Murder, serial killer, a case of mistaken identity, little bit of revenge and psychopathy going on…. Margrit doesn't "detect" so much as run around sticking her nose into the business of the Old Races until she's practically a walking target for anyone involved in the game. There's also a couple of side plots that, while they get members of the other Races involved, don't get developed as much as I would have liked.
Evidence that books are not merely the sum of their parts, Heart of Stone is still a good read despite its mediocre medley. Margrit is an interesting protagonist. She makes mistakes. Sometimes they aren't the most convincing mistakes (i.e., it seems like she's making a mistake as a result of plot-induced stupidity), but most of the time they're human mistakes. Margrit's normality (if you can call her normal), combined with her unusual occupation for an urban fantasy heroine, makes her memorable (good for sales!). Ironically, she protests against such treatment in the book when her boss puts her on a case because of her high-profile status and, he admits, the fact that she is black. Promotional tactics aside, however, Margrit's still the reason to read this book.
I'm trying to make this review more positive than negative, because I did like the book. Yet I can't help expressing some disappointment. The name of the series, and the tagline "five powerful races—one mortal go-between" gave me a different impression than the one I received while reading. I was expecting Margrit, you know, to negotiate among the various members of the Old Races. She negotiates with some of them, for her own life, but she isn't very submerged in their politics and internal affairs. Heart of Stone is clearly fantasy, but I wonder if it's fantastic enough.
In closing: should you read this book? Sure. Am I enthusiastic about it? Not so much. I can see this appealing to an audience, as my concerns are very much a matter of "your mileage may vary" (offer not valid in Quebec). While it did entertain me, Heart of Stone did not grip me. And so I bid it adieu, not with the long, heavy sigh of a profound experience, but with a smile and a shrug as I pick up the next book in the stack.