Toxic Heart: a Mystic City Novel
by Theo Lawrence
Series: Mystic City #2
Published on 2014-04-08
by Random House Childrens Books
Genres: Young Adult
Also by this author: Mystic City
A city in flames. A trust betrayed. A perfect love destroyed.
Has Aria lost Hunter, her one true love? Ever since rebellion broke out in Mystic City, pitting the ruling elite against the magic-wielding mystics, Aria has barely seen her boyfriend. Not surprising, since Hunter is the leader of the mystic uprising, and he'll do whatever it takes to win freedom for his people—even if that means using Aria.
But Aria is no one's pawn. She believes she can bring the two warring sides together, save the city, and win back the Hunter she fell in love with. Before she can play peacemaker, though, Aria will need to find the missing heart of a dead mystic. The heart gives untold powers to whoever possesses it, but finding it means seeking out a fierce enemy whose deepest desire is for Aria to be gone—forever.
Mystic City was one of my favourite novels of 2013. It surpassed all my expectations and then some, so although it wasn’t perfect, I was itching to get my hands on the sequel. Less than a year later and I finally have Books 1 and 2 of the series sitting side by side on my shelf – though I’m afraid my thoughts on the latter are a little more mixed than I would have wanted.
Aria Rose has given up everything for her one true love; a passionate, shadowy mystic named Hunter, and the reason her family stole her memory and made her forget he ever existed. Now that she’s firmly in control of her life, Aria has left the towering Aeries for a perilous existence in the underbelly of futuristic Manhattan.
But in the weeks since war broke out between the ruling upper class and the downtrodden mystic population, Aria’s hardly seen Hunter, and she’s beginning to feel like an unwanted orphan, passed from pillar to post. And when Hunter commits a colossal betrayal of her trust, she realizes it’s time to take her fate into her own hands once again.
Mystic City was not a particularly dark story, but there is a definite shift in tone here. The plot is packed with danger, from kidnap attempts to bombings to the use of torture and back again. It’s tense and thrilling, though the pacing is a little wayward on occasion. I didn’t know where the story would go and I was even surprised by the opening – but if you’ve been lucky enough to read this one already, then you’ll know that the ending will stun you even more.
The setting, too, takes a decidedly darker turn, as we see the impoverished, precarious day-to-day goings-on for the mystics who aren’t out at the front. The Depths are, in this book, much less of an exotic adventure for Aria; they’re a harsh reality, removing the sheen of wonder and awe that had somewhat clouded her vision through the events of Mystic City – though there are, of course, risky escapades into enemy territory to contend with as well. The description is, as always, second to none.
Fans will know that Aria spent quite a lot of Mystic City feeling confused – as if somehow couldn’t see a giant elephant in the room – but her actions are fuelled by clarity and empowerment in this sequel. She starts out just waiting for Hunter to come back to her – boring! – but once she decides that she’s worth more than being used and kept out of the loop by someone who claims to love her, her character developed is kicked up a notch. She makes mistakes, but they’re her own mistakes. She still has feelings for Hunter, but she’s not willing to let him push her around.
And that brings me to the main problem I had with this book. Hunter has so much potential as both a hero and a love interest, but he does not make you want to root for him one bit in Toxic Heart. His demeanour changes completely. He wants equality for all of mystic-kind, but he can’t even treat his girlfriend like a person. It’s natural that the strain of spearheading a war would get to him, but without adequate exploration of his motives and emotions, he just kind of turns into a jerk. Some of you may be able to find redeeming features hidden somewhere in these pages, but he really let me down.
Thankfully, Turk – Hunter’s best friend from book one – only became more and more awesome through this book, and he practically earns half the stars I’ve given all by himself.
At one point during Toxic Heart, I wondered if I’d even make it to the end of the next chapter, but ultimately I’m glad I stuck with it – and I’m hoping you will be, too.
In short: this is not just a story about revolution, but evolution – of characters, of relationship, of trust and of course, of conflicts on an epic scale. I didn’t love all of it, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be coming back for the final instalments.
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