“And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night..And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” – Edgar Allen Poe, The Masque of the Red Death
It’s 1860, and in Surrey, England, the unmatchable beauty, Senza Fyne, is finally out to society. Her life is balls and luncheons, every day like the next, and the more it goes on the more she becomes disenchanted with it all; being passed from suitor to suitor as if a prize to be won.
That is until her life is thrown into disarray when the cruel hand of death seems to cast a shadow over it, and gradually she becomes consumed by fear: fear of death, of a life unlived, and of dying alone.
Enter Mr. Knell.
A mysterious stranger no one seems to know, whom she finds herself inexplicably drawn towards. However the more she falls for him the more mysterious he becomes, until one day he offers her a choice: the chance to cheat death, and survive on the stolen heartbeats of others, forever.
Overflowing with rich, gothic description, The Heartbeat Thief very much reflects the style of the short story that inspired it. Loosely based around the ideas that arise in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, AJ Krafton has brilliantly captured the same feel and atmosphere of that macabre tale, but placed it in a world which feels almost Austen-esque. While Jane Austen and Edgar Allen Poe are not the first authors to come to mind when considering a crossover, Krafton makes it work effortlessly, resulting in some really sumptuous pieces of description.
The plot itself is captivating enough, albeit feeling ever so slightly disjointed at times. However, seeing as another title for this book could’ve been The Life and Adventures of Senza Fyne, perhaps the disjointedness simply reflects the different stages we go through in our lives.
The character of Senza is an interesting one, and as the book progresses, and the world around her changes, it is quite interesting to note how she goes from being a girl very much ahead of her time to rather being one of days gone by.
Perhaps the downside to this book for me came with regards to her relationship and feelings towards Mr. Knell, which repeatedly frustrated me throughout. I felt at times like she seemed to forget how badly he had treated her, and continued to yearn after him in spite of this. She repeatedly talks about how much she hates the idea of being trapped by the suitors who line up to marry her when she comes out to society, but then proceeds to lament the absence of Mr. Knell, who in many ways has trapped her for himself.
Overall, The Heartbeat Thief is an enjoyable piece of modern gothic fiction, which is let down in some ways by it’s slightly repetitive plot and Senza’s unerring sense of loyalty to Mr. Knell.