The year is 1764, and following a glowing recommendation from his last employer, Henry Coffey, vampire, takes on a new personal secretary: young Theophilus Essex.
The man is quite unlike any secretary – or any man, for that matter – that Henry has ever met.
‘Heart of Stone’ is a slowly unfolding period romance between a vampire and his inimitably devoted clerk: lushly depicted in flowing, lovingly appended prose, we follow the slow understanding these two men grasp of one another, and the cross of their two worlds into each other’s.
Henry Coffey, immortal and ever-oscillating between periods of delighted focus upon his current passion project, is charming, witty, and seems utterly incapable of closing his mouth for more than a few moments; in contrast, Theophilus Essex is quiet and keenly focused, adopting an ever-flat affect, but as time goes on, he relaxes in his employer’s presence.
Craving resounding intimacy but with an ever aware of the polite boundaries for their situation, Coffey and Essex perform a slow dance as they grow closer to one another, and find themselves entangled.
Oh this book was lovely and gentle and just the kind of slow burn romance I needed in my life. Thank you, book!
It’s rare that I read a romance where there’s not some kind of sub-plot that moves the romance forward while more ‘action-y’ stuff occurs. This one is very much more of a slice of life tale and I loved it for that. Don’t get me wrong, I love the other style of romances as well, but to have a book so focused on the characters, their lives, and the actual romance–this was so refreshing.
So, let me talk a bit about the characters because they’re the most important thing to me in any story. The characters here are very well-written and realistic feeling (except for the supernatural elements, naturally). Henry has ADHD and as such is seemingly jumping from topic to topic in a conversation. Or sometimes he’ll randomly pick up part of a conversation from an earlier time. This made so much sense to me because my husband has ADHD and, yes, this is exactly what it’s like. It’s not a quirk or a fun personality trait, it’s just…part of who he is and how he works. I have to say that I really loved the way this was portrayed and also how those around him accept this aspect of his being. Theophilus is such a great counter to Henry’s character. Where Henry flounces, Theophilus is quiet and studious with what seems like endless concentration. Even getting chapters from his perspective he is a bit of mystery at times but I love that about him. Rather than being frustrated at Theophilus’ seemingly neutral opinion to every question Henry asks him, he is delighted. I think part of this is just his natural playfulness, but I also think it’s because he, as a 500 year old vampire, has been around a while and Theophilus presents a bit of a puzzle to him.
The thing that really made this book work for me, personally, is the amount of emotions expressed in the writing. I’m an emotional reader. If you give me good emotional content I can connect to via the characters and their own feelings then I’m a happy camper, and this book has that in spades. There’s a bit of angst, which I love. Both characters are quietly falling in love with each other but they don’t know where the other one stands. First there is the question of ‘are they even interested in other men?’ and then even once that has been answered there’s other things that the characters take into consideration. And it’s not for any ‘need to create drama’ reason that a lot of romances have that just feel so artificial, but it’s because the characters are being so considerate of one another–so very considerate that they’re afraid (especially in Henry’s case) of forcing their feelings and desires onto a party that may not be prepared to deal with that.
As far as world-building, it’s mostly (gloriously) historical. But along with the vampires there are some other supernatural elements and magic as well. Some humans know about the magic and vampires while others live in complete ignorance of this other world exisisting inside of their own. I also really enjoyed a lot of the side characters, a lot of thoughtfulness went into their creation.
Overall, this book was thoroughly enjoyable! Very much looking forward to whatever the author writes next. 5/5 stars.