Not knowing I would be reviewing The Lightening-Struck Heart, I began reading it on a return trip from vacation. Even though my strict policy not to read other reviews before I begin a book to critique were not necessary, I nonetheless avoided looking up T.J. Klune’s latest release. Of course the Internet had been buzzing about this book ever since the author had mentioned its impending release. I mean a gay unicorn that poops sparkles hooking up with a dragon was bound to make fans practically salivate. Why? Well, if you have read anything by this author then you are either a wildly inappropriate fan of his (and I say that with all the love in my heart) or you do that SMH thing and walk away. For purposes of a valid and unbiased review, I will not divulge which camp I fall into (no I am not wearing a rainbow unicorn tee shirt, pshaw).
But I digress…talking about this author and his work can do that to a reviewer. That and make them giggle uncontrollably and sigh and want to hurl his books at the wall and then lovingly pick them up and pet them and…okay I think I may be getting off course here. However, despite all those reactions, and the monumental task of trying to encapsulate in a very few paragraphs a cohesive synopsis of this rather long, yet remarkable novel, I shall try to tell you exactly why you need, nay must, purchase this delightful tome as soon as possible.
The Synopsis Or Why I Now Want A Gay Unicorn Of My Very Own.
Sam is a wizard in training, pledged to be Prince Justin’s adviser when he gains the throne. Until then he is being trained by the King’s wizard, Morgan of Shadows. Sam may have lived out his life in obscurity and poverty had it not been for that neat trick of turning a group of boys, who had been chasing him for the sole purpose of beating him up, into stone. That understandably caught the eye of the head wizarding guy who’d been in the vicinity and transported Sam to his current “in training” status along with his parents who, by the way, you will adore.
A few years after landing in the castle, Morgan sends Sam on a quest with the order to bring back something “unexpected.” Sam returns with a hornless gay unicorn, Gary, and his faithful and strong companion, the half giant, Tiggy. Sam tells Morgan it is not the physical or magical appearance of the two creatures that was unexpected—it is that he finally has two friends. (Cue the first half-sob to release from my throat.) Tiggy is not a simpleton, but is simple in his approach to life—if it threatens Gary or Sam, hurt it. Gary, on the other hand, is a snarky diva kind of “gurl” who never misses the opportunity to snipe at Sam about everything from his “racist” attempts to suggest Gary be ridden, to Sam’s hair, clothes, virginity, lusty crush on a certain knight, and I could go on and on. When angered, Gary apparently can glitter you up side the head and make you sorry you ever doubted a gay unicorn could more than handle himself in any situation.
The knight in question is none other than Ryan, lovingly referred to as “Knight Delicious Face” who apparently often poses, unknowingly. Sam and he had been carefully avoiding one another for a few years until Sam turned eighteen. Unfortunately, by that time, Ryan had promised himself to Prince Justin and was no longer on the open market. To make matters worse, everyone around the two can see they are both pining for each other, including the Prince who I will now go on record as hating and wishing he would have been eaten by the dragon that captured him. (Ok, that may have been slightly hostile in tone but once you read the book trust me you will agree.) Essentially the rest of the plot is the quest to find and return the prince so that he and Ryan can marry.
In between the finding and returning there will be the constant reappearance of: “the dark” wizards who have a vendetta against Sam for Tiggy having smashed one of their own; a vengeful tiny fairy King who may or may not be Sam’s ex and who still wants to lick Sam all over; a truth potion wielding cult led by a crazy lady who worships the same dragon Sam and company are pursuing; and an undeniably powerful drag queen/cross-dressing fairy godmother/Madam of an elite whorehouse who is wickedly smart and has a soft place in her heart for Sam. Oh and a bunch of adventures bound to make you fall in love with this amazingly zany and incredibly sweet cast of characters that live inside the strange and twisted imagination of one of the most creative writing minds of this day, i.e., Mr. Klune.
That leads me too: Why You Should Buy This Book Or Here Comes The Serious Review Stuff.
Before I dig in to what makes this story a must buy, let me offer a warning. If this is your first T.J. Klune novel then be forewarned his humor is broad, campy, sarcastic, colorful, at time’s crude, and has even been labeled juvenile (think middle to early high school nerd boy humor), all this to say, it is nigh on brilliant in my opinion. I dare you to read this story and not laugh—many, many times. However, along with the snarky humor there is a core to this story that will, at times, make your heart weep. The crux of this novel is that Sam is one very lonely boy. Knowing he is different from an early age means he lives a life that is not conducive to making friends easily. Before you begin to think, ”oh it’s that poor little gay boy thing again,” please know it’s more—so much more than that.
Klune plumbs the depths of what it is like to go through life with secrets so profound that having others find out would most assuredly alienate them and cause a person to be branded an outcast. So what is a boy to do when he realizes he is so markedly different from his peers but to withdraw from their fellowship and hope to remain unnoticed and escape being bullied for being the odd one out. Sam is just such a figure. He has untapped power that if allowed to go unchecked could turn him dark and cause him to grow into a terrible force to be reckoned with when he comes of age. If he doesn’t find his “cornerstone” –that person who can calm him, soothe his violent magical force, and help him control it, then he may indeed become that which he and Morgan work to contain—evil, pure and simple. This sets Sam apart, forces him into a lonely existence that even Gary and Tiggy cannot always share in, despite their being so close.
On top of this sobering theme, there is the beauty and turmoil of first love. Sam is so smitten with Ryan, who can never be his. After all a knight’s promise is his bond and once Sam understands the basis of Ryan’s fealty to Justin there is no denying the reason behind Ryan’s actions or the determination to seeing his marriage to the prince through to the end. But oh does Sam love his knight and the pain that reality brings is heartbreaking to read. Here is where Sam’s parents, his King, and Morgan play such a critical role in both comforting and guiding our hero. Their love for Sam is so apparent, so tender and so all encompassing, that their advice to him makes for some of the sweetest and more tenderhearted moments in this incredible story.
Finally, the snappy and intelligent dialogue, the astoundingly complete and creative building of an alternate world where fantastical creatures live, and the intricately drawn characters who live and breathe with such realism combine to make The Lightening-Struck Heart a stunning fantasy novel that I am certain will go down as one of the top m/m literary picks of the year 2015.
I have taken great license in this review, poorly attempting to give you a miniscule taste of the humor and pathos of this great work by T.J. Klune. Please do not rely on my thoughts alone to prompt you to make a copy of this book your own. Instead read just a tiny snippet of the beauty that is Klune’s latest work of art.
“…I’m sorry I made an oath. I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do. And I’m sorry that I can’t break it. But you have to believe me that it’s always been you. I promise. I promise.” His voice cracked and my hands shook. “I promise, because when I look upon these stars, there is nothing I wish for more than you.”
It goes without saying that I highly recommend The Lightening-Struck Heart by T.J. Klune to you.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.