Teleo is a retired soldier descended from Mages, who were cast out of power generations ago. After years of war and sorrow, he wants nothing more than to live a quiet life on his farm and work his stonemason’s craft.
His wife and daughter had been murdered during a war raid several years earlier and his young son stolen by the enemy side. He spent years unsuccessfully searching for his son and returned home broken-hearted. At the local castle, he comes upon a war orphan stolen by his side from the enemy and rescues him from abuse, adopting him as his foster son.
Teleo is working at the castle when he finds himself in the middle of a coup. This launches a journey to protect his new family, uncover the secrets of the ancient ways, and reclaim the magic of the Mages.
Heliotrope was the epic fantasy I didn’t know I needed. It is a beautifully written, slow-burn story full of heart.
Epic fantasy is without a doubt my favorite genre, and I have read a lot of it. Heliotrope is not quite like anything I’ve read before. It at once plays into so many of the tropes of epic fantasy, while also subverting many of them. It is a large book (almost 800 pages!), full of exposition, traveling, and lengthy descriptions. But I’ve never read an epic fantasy with this level of detail that flowed as well as it did. There are plenty of books that I love that I had to take breaks from or even skip paragraphs because I just couldn’t handle the exposition. I didn’t skip of word of Heliotrope. I feel like the level of detail we get in this book shouldn’t work but it just does. We get scenes of the care and feeding of animals, stone working, and other mundane activities, but it never feels boring. Its slow, but never boring. It is a testament to the abilities of the author that I could be so drawn into a story with this amount of descriptive text. On two occasions I read more than 200 pages in one sitting, without even realizing how much I had read or how long I had spent reading. I always say this is the highest compliment I can give to a book and Heliotrope deserves it. Even if you aren’t a fan of slow-burn stories I would recommend giving this one a try because it just might change your mind.
That isn’t to say there is no action. Teleo is described as the best warrior in his kingdom and we get to see him in action plenty of times. There are monarchs dropping left and right in this book. When viewing the big picture, the stakes in this book are very high. The fates of 3 different kingdoms are being fought over in this book, but the conflict feels very personal. Teleo is one of the most relatable fantasy protagonists I have ever read (for me). He’s much older than I am but he’s just a guy trying to live a normal life. He would like nothing better than to live quietly on his farm with his animals. But he is also fiercely loyal and protective of his family. Even if they aren’t his family by blood. Found family is a big theme of this book. Teleo’s wife and daughter were killed years prior, and his son taken to a foreign land as a slave. Mostly on accident he takes two young adults into his care as a coup is staged in his home country and they are forced to flee along with Teleo’s adult cousin. Teleo and his cousin become a surrogate mother and father, and the relationships developed between Teleo and his adoptive children was beautiful to read about. Teleo struggles with survivor’s guilt over his dead family and feelings of inadequacy, while also wanting to protect and love his new family.
I thought the character development was done superbly well. The younger character grow and develop over the course of the book and are different people by the end. But while Teleo has plenty of development and growth, he doesn’t become a whole new person. At the end of the book, after doing some crazy stuff, Teleo doesn’t feel like he’s the hero or anything, he’s too old and stubborn. His relationships have grown but he’s still just a chill guy wanting to live, a now magic filled, life. I feel like huge character growth of older characters happens so much in fantasy, but it is much more realistic in Heliotrope.
The magic in this novel was also fascinating. Pickering plays into the lost magic trope in this world, where magic was outlawed generations ago and magic users banished into the mountains. However, Teleo and his family have the blood of mages in them and they start learning about and experimenting with their powers as we progress in the novel. I usually enjoy this trope, it is a good way to explain magic to the reader without info dumps and we get an added sense of wonder because the characters are just discovering the magic along with the reader. The magic was very unique and I really enjoyed it, I would describe it as a softer magic with hard elements to it and the author did a wonderful job in working it into the story without it feeling like a deus ex machina.
I loved this book and recommend it to all readers of epic fantasy. And if you have been put off before by authors writing huge books waxing eloquent about the hills, I recommend you give this one a try as well. This is descriptive writing done right and you might be surprised how enjoyable it is and how quickly you get through it.