I have a really weird relationship with fantasy novels. I don’t put them on the list of genres I read. I generally consider them with aversion. But. BUT! When I start to read one, after I get done with the requisite moaning and/or groaning, I am transfixed1. Was that the case with Brian Farrey’s The Counterclockwise Heart? Read on to find out.
February 1, 2022
Algonquin Young Readers
Blurb: Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . .
Time is running out in the empire of Rheinvelt.
The sudden appearance of a strange and frightening statue foretells darkness. The Hierophants—magic users of the highest order—have fled the land. And the shadowy beasts of the nearby Hinterlands are gathering near the borders, preparing for an attack.
Young Prince Alphonsus is sent by his mother, the Empress Sabine, to reassure the people while she works to quell the threat of war. But Alphonsus has other problems on his mind, including a great secret: He has a clock in his chest where his heart should be—and it’s begun to run backwards, counting down to his unknown fate.
Searching for answers about the clock, Alphonsus meets Esme, a Hierophant girl who has returned to the empire in search of a sorceress known as the Nachtfrau. When riddles from their shared past threaten the future of the empire, Alphonsus and Esme must learn to trust each other and work together to save it—or see the destruction of everything they both love.
A young baby, Alphonsus, is found in the walls of a castle. Upon closer examination by his “mother,” the empress, it’s discovered that he has a clock where his heart should be. That same day a frightening statue appears in a nearby small town. Years later, a young witch, a Hierophant, sets out on a journey to save her people. These stories entwine to lead the reader on a fantastic journey filled with magic, darkness, and knowledge and truths to be discovered in Brian Farrey’s The Counterclockwise Heart.
I have to say that when I got beyond my initial, ugh, it’s a fantasy novel, that I was gripped by this book. It may be written for middle graders, but nonetheless it captured me and held on. I was mesmerized by the story of young Prince Alphonsus. Why did he have a clock as a heart? Why had it begun to go backwards? Would he survive? And, what of young Esme who seems far too young to be traversing the landscape that the community of Hierophants has asked her to travel through with its monsters and dangers.
As I turned pages, I was also very aware that Farrey was also presenting another story, about people who are different and being tolerant, that the stories we are fed may not always be stories that are true. That there comes a time when we must determine what our purpose is while realizing that it is not necessarily the one that others would choose for us. And, the obvious one: seeking power for power’s sake alone can and does corrupt.
I don’t know why but I never thought as I was reading: this is a middle grade book. It was just an engrossing read with tweens as characters, which is why I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good adventure story filled with magic and monsters and true-hearted characters as well as concrete lessons that we may all need reaffirming every once in a while.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
5 out of 5 butterflies
1My general feeling on fantasy is unlikely to change and I suspect it’s impossible that fantasy will be this blogs genre of choice.