Trif Clover desperately wants to find her HeartMate, to the point where she has decided to risk ridicule and embarrassment by going door to door throughout the city and looking for him with her charmkey. What she doesn't realize is that he's living in her apartment building.
Guardsman Ilex Winterberry made sure to wait until after Trif had searched her building before moving in. He wishes he could court her properly but 1) he's 25 years her senior and feels that he's far too old for her and 2) he's had visions that tell him he'll die soon, and HeartMates always die within a year of each other. He refuses to cut Trif's life short. All he'll allow himself to do is watch over her and be her friend. As he investigates a recent series of murders, he worries about Trif's similarity to the victims and does his best to keep her safe.
It's been years since I last read the four books prior to this one. Although this was a reread, it wasn't the best way to jump back into the series. Ilex's murder investigation led to him talking to lots of characters I knew had been in the previous books but otherwise couldn't remember much about. It wasn't much of a problem that I could barely remember T'Ash, Danith, Straif, and Mitchella's books, but not remembering Holm and Lark's book (Heart Duel) definitely was. The Holly family's curse, caused by the head of the household's disapproval of Holm and Lark's marriage, had a prominent place in Heart Quest, and I couldn't for the life of me remember why T'Holly had been against their marriage.
Another thing I had forgotten about this series was the cheesiness of its setup. The planet Celta was colonized 405 years prior to Heart Quest, and apparently all or most of the colonists were Celtic pagans (I think?). Either they arrived with psi abilities (Flair) already in place, or something about the planet gave some of them psi abilities. At three points throughout their lives, Celtans with Flair go through Passages that (I think – again, it's been a while since I read those earlier books) help their Flair settle and, in some cases, allow them to connect with their HeartMates (soulmates). HeartMate relationships are supposed to be strong and wonderful, but not all HeartMates manage to find each other or even want that kind of close connection if they do.
The world also has something called Fams, telepathic animals that can bond with particular people. I love cats, but I have to admit that Owens' cat Fams tend to annoy me. I think it has something to do with the way she has them speak – their first person singular pronouns are always capitalized, to show their lofty opinions of themselves. Greyku, Trif's vain kitten Fam, was particularly bad. She either didn't know or didn't care that Trif wasn't wealthy and begged for things like jeweled collars and an artist who could dye her fur. I liked Vertic, Ilex's fox Fam, much more – he came across as being more settled and mature, and he certainly didn't talk as much.
Anyway, the first half of the book spent a bit too much time on characters who weren't directly related to this book's main story – the Holly family curse, Danith and the Fams, and Saille T'Willow's drastic decision to find his HeartMate by sending his HeartGift out into the world where anything could happen to it. Thankfully, the book felt more focused in the second half. Trif finally learned who her HeartMate was and got the chance to change his mind about being with her, and Ilex's murder investigation finally began to uncover promising information.
The murder investigation was so-so. Although Ilex's methods were intriguing, a blend of normal and psi evidence-gathering, a recording of one survivor's memories, and little magical poppets that could eventually point Ilex and other guardsmen to the murderers, the murderers and their motives wouldn't be worth much more than a yawn to the average mystery reader.
The progression of Ilex and Trif's romance was much more fun, although I have to admit that there were times when the age gap between them was a bit much for me. The way Ilex obsessed about it in the first half of the book kept reminding me of it, and there were several times when the gap between Trif and Ilex's maturity seemed as great as the gap between Greyku and Vertic. I could understand Ilex's fear that his death would end up killing Trif too if they bonded, so it was frustrating when Trif kept ignoring that fear and saying she didn't care.
On the one hand, this book reminded me why I hadn't read any of this series in years. The romance could have been better, the mystery was so-so, and the Fams tended to be annoying. On the other hand, I still had fun. Ilex was a great character, several of the side characters were intriguing, and I liked the fantasy and sci-fi elements despite their cheesy aspects. It's too bad the AI-run Residences don't have a more prominent place in the series.
I noticed four typos, two of them within a couple pages of each other. In one instance, the typo interfered with the meaning of the sentence enough that it took me a few beats to figure out what the character was saying.
The beginning of the book includes a map of Celta.
I debated between 3 and 3.5 stars. It's probably more of a 3-star book, but I liked Ilex enough to bump it up to 3.5.
(Original review, including read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)