Title: The Red Heart
Author: Isabelle Rowan
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Amazon Publisher
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novella/113 PDF pages
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Review Summary: A beautifully written story that moved me, as the MCs and the world building shone.
The Blurb An ex-soldier and an urban Goth walk into a desert. It sounds like the start of a joke, but for Sam Collins and Daniel Evans, it is the beginning of their story. Daniel walks to shed his drug-filled past and make himself whole. But Sam, who hides the demons of war behind a smile, needs Daniel more than either man knows. An old stockman’s wisdom sends them on their journey together, a long hard road to find Australia’s sacred Red Heart and—perhaps—each other.
This book is part of the Under the Southern Cross anthology.
Sam and Daniel were both seeking answers to the eternal question: what is the meaning of life. Meeting up initially at an out of the way inn at the start on their individual journeys was the beginning of their rebirth, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The story is told from Dan’s 3rd person POV and we get to know his character, his background, and why he was on this particular journey to try and save his life, or at least live to reach 28. There was almost a dreamlike quality to the story as Daniel and his new friend Sam decided to journey together to Uluru or the Red Heart of Australia, also called The Rock by the locals.
Daniel had been in and out of rehab all his adult life and he was trying to escape his past of drugs and make a new beginning by going to Uluru. He knew that if he didn’t change his lifestyle radically he would surely die, and very soon. Before he and Sam met he had intended to drive to The Rock while Sam was taking the path less travelled – walking – because for him it was the journey that was important not the destination. As Sam told him, the difference between them was that Daniel was a driver while he was a drover. “Old Bob,” a stockman on the cattle station where Sam occasionally worked, told Daniel that they were “two halves of a story waiting to be told” and that he and Sam had to do their journey together. I became quite fond of Old Bob who was a real character, a fixture on the station who pretended he could foretell the weather.
Sam was an ex soldier suffering from PTSD. We’re not told much about his life as his backstory is sketched in briefly and there is no information about how long ago he had been discharged or what his relationship was with his family. All we know is that he was 30 years old, had been seriously injured during his military service, and had horrible burns over parts of his body about which he was very sensitive. Sam was damaged by life both physically and mentally, but despite that he had a great sense of humour and found beauty in the wild untamed land called Uluru about which he cared deeply, and its surroundings.
This story, which is beautifully written, can best be described as a gentle romance between two damaged men. The dialogue and prose are authentic and the world building is so real I felt as if I were in the story with Daniel and Sam.
If you want to be transported to a different world that most of us will never experience, you only have to crack open the covers of The Red Heart for a taste of the Australian Outback in all its glory, as two unlikely men reach for the same dream. One knew that if he didn’t change his life he might as well write himself out of it. The other knew that he had a long way to go before he could return to “civilized” society, as his journey would not be finished when he completed his trek to Uluru.
I read a review of this book where the reviewer said she was disappointed about the minimal sex in the book, her pet peeve as she called it, and I guess other readers may feel that the story lacked something because there wasn’t the obligatory humping in every chapter. Therefore I suppose I should warn you that if you like books with lots of sex The Red Heart is not for you. I really enjoyed Daniel’s and Sam’s story but the one aspect that I felt was a bit off the tone of the rest of it was that after 3 days Daniel fell in love with Dan which I thought smacked of insta! love, but the beauty of the prose more than made up for this misstep as I experienced the incredible magnificence and beauty of the Outback. Here’s a small sample:
“Daniel did as he was told and looked at the landscape shimmering in front of him. Blue sky,dirt, scrub … then he really looked at it.The sky was more than just blue; it started pale near the horizon, then grew in intensity until the colour blue didn’t adequately describe it anymore. Dirt might have described the grey stuff back home, but around Daniel were yellow, orange, brown, and red broken by sage green brushes.”
I have always loved Isabelle Rowan’s writing since I read A Note in the Margin that was so original and deeply impactful I couldn’t believe she was a first-time published author. This book is as different as night and day from Note, yet the style of storytelling is similar and I was really moved by these two protagonists who had nowhere to go but up because they had already experienced the dregs.
If you would like a different experience in this genre I would highly recommend The Red Heart. The ending was more of a HFN than a HEA, which I thought was quite appropriate for Daniel and Sam.