Content warning: Animals in peril, and one of the main characters has suicidal thoughts at the beginning of the book.
Signet D'Marigold believes she is doomed to be alone. Her parents died during her Third Passage, and none of her friends have ever stayed by her side or kept in touch for long. No one has ever been able to figure out what her Flair is, so she feels useless and lonely until the young prophet, Vinni T'Vine, tells her he's had a vision that her Flair can help his young brain-damaged HeartMate, Avellana Hazel, survive her First Passage.
Signet isn't the only person enlisted to help Avellana. Cratag Maytree, a personal guard for the T'Hawthorn Family, is hired to be Avellana's bodyguard. Cratag is secretly hurt to be hired out like this - he thought T'Hawthorn valued him more, and he'd prefer to be there for Laev Hawthorn's upcoming Passage. Still, he'll do as he's told, and he's certainly looking forward to spending time around Signet. He'd met her several times before and been attracted to her, but he's sure a beautiful and well-bred lady like her couldn't possibly feel the same about a man like him, a scarred outsider with little Flair.
The last time I read anything in this series was back in 2016: Heart Quest, which didn't hold up as well as I'd hoped but which is still one of my top favorites in the series, and Heart Dance, which I loathed. Rereading my review of Heart Dance reminded me of a lot of the things about Celtan society I've come to dislike, and I was glad that HeartGifts were barely mentioned in Heart Change.
I'd most recommend this book to people who are already fans of this series. Readers finally get a bit more progression in the Vinni and Avellana's storyline. I admit, I both enjoy this aspect of the series and am put off by it. In this book, Vinni is 13 and Avellana is 7. They're friends, but everyone knows they're also HeartMates - it makes me a bit uncomfortable that their lives are mapped out so early. Also, yes, this series does eventually work up to a book where Vinni and Avellana are both adults and stars of their own romance. Heart Change is as far as I've gotten, and I'm not entirely sure I want to work my way up to a romance novel starring characters I know best as children.
Anyway, in this book readers finally got to see Avellana make it past her first Passage and learn what her Flair is. However, there was of course a primary romance story, and that involved Signet and Cratag. I liked the basic setup: Signet, the lonely heroine who wanted someone in her life who wouldn't abandon her and who wasn't quite the ethereal and untouchable princess that Cratag imagined her to be, and Cratag, the rough fighter who secretly yearned for a place where he could belong and be needed. Cratag had previously been attracted to her from afar but hadn't thought those feeling would ever be mutual.
I figured he and Signet would spend some time awkwardly circling each other before flirting a bit and then eventually ending up in bed. Instead, they were kissing within a day or two of living in the same house together, and the only thing that kept them from falling into bed right away was Avellana. Luckily for them, Avellana liked schedules and could mostly be convinced to stay away long enough for a sex scene to happen.
I really wish the romance had been paced more slowly. As it was, it felt like they were all over each other way too soon considering they both had abandonment issues, and the story began to drag. Cratag's sudden withdrawal near the end didn't make much sense, and then the resolution happened way too quickly and easily.
The storyline with Laev wasn't much better. The way Laev's supposed HeartMate and her family acted should have been a giant red flag, but the whole HeartMate thing seems to destroy some characters' brains. I see that Laev is the hero of Book 10, Heart Search, and the thought of reading his story is only slightly less unpleasant to me than the thought of reading Tinne Holly's (the guy whose HeartMate was married to a much older and abusive man when she was a child).
I don't know that this is a series I'm ever going to finish. I think I can make it through the one other book I own that I haven't yet read, but I doubt I'll ever make it to Vinni and Avellana's book. The aspects of this series that used to work for me are starting to get overshadowed by the stuff that doesn't - the slight cheesiness (the Marigold family tap dances in order to enter their HouseHeart) and the way the world is set up (certain characters use HeartGifts in ways that qualify as sexual assault, divorce is difficult to obtain even though it's apparently easy for unethical people to trap people into horrible marriages). Even the cats are hit or miss, although I do still love the Residences (sentient homes run by AI). Heart Change's cats were among the good ones - Beadle was a clumsy sweetie, and Du wasn't quite as haughty as most of the series' other Fams and had a backstory that made me want to give him a hug.
One final comment: I don't know who the person on the cover is supposed to be, but he isn't Cratag. It's mentioned several times that Cratag's hair is shaved close to his skull, and I don't think that tattoo is accurate either. Also, I doubt Cratag would be stupid enough to hold weapons like that, even if he was repeatedly dumb enough to leave Avellana alone despite having been hired to be her bodyguard.
A character list, which was helpful, and a map, which I never even glanced at.