Raise Up, Heart has a fantastical (and somewhat horrifying) premise that is revealed pretty clearly in the blurb, and even more so in the opening prologue. That said, if you want to go into the story totally cold, be aware that there is no way to write this review without revealing that premise. So if that is you, just know the book is great and check it out. For everyone else…
Two years ago, Cole lost Damon, the love of his life, to a tragic accident. Cole still isn’t over Damon’s death; in fact, he is barely hanging on. The grief is just too much for him and, while he has some good days, they are outnumbered by the bad. When Damon died, his heart was given to his cousin, Alex, who was involved in the same car accident. Alex was also Damon’s best friend, and his girlfriend, Emily, is one of Cole’s closest friends. But Alex has disappeared without a trace and poor Emily is devastated.
While Damon’s heart now beats inside Alex’s body, the heart truly belongs to Cole. Damon’s heart would do anything to get back to Cole, anything to be with the man he loves. Even fight Alex for the right to their body, for the chance to once again reunite with Cole and be together.
Cole imagines he sees Damon everywhere… until one day he actually does. Is it possible his love has returned to him, or is this all a fantasy being brought about by grief? Could Damon’s heart really have found a way to bring the two men back to one another?
Yep, so some definite creepy things are going on here in Leta Blake’s romantic horror. Damon’s heart takes over Alex’s body and somehow Damon returns from the dead. And yes, there is a very happy ending here for Cole and Damon, so never fear. But the story itself is creepy and fascinating and perfectly straddles the line between horrifying and romantic.
First off, I need to point out what is going to be the biggest issue for many readers and that is the POV here. Cole’s POV is in third person present, which I will admit is one of my least favorite styles since it is so hard to do well. And Alex/Damon’s portions of the book are in second person, something almost unheard of in romance (I think I have read maybe one short story in 15+ years as a romance reader). I will admit that it took me a while to settle into the story, particularly as it starts in Alex’s second person POV, which is kind of startling in its difference to the norm. All that said, I think Blake handles it wonderfully and the POVs are a perfect fit for the story. Having finished the book, I can’t imagine it any differently. There is an immediacy that comes from present tense that lets us feel like we are experiencing things along with Cole. His uncertainty and sense of being off balance comes through very clearly through the present tense. And the second person POV fits so perfectly with the creepy vibe that kicks off the book, as we see Alex struggling with feeling like something is taking over his body and his mind. It is terrifying, as he has no idea what is happening, and it is clear he is losing that struggle. Even when the perspective switches to Damon rather than Alex, there is something not quite right about it all that comes through in the second person POV. So I think the style really enhances the book, but you do have to give it a little time to settle in around you as you read.
As for the story itself, I think it is a perfect blend of romantic and horrifying. The idea is sweepingly romantic — that Damon’s heart belongs so strongly to Cole that it will literally do anything to return to the man he loves. That he will (unconsciously) battle another man for control over their body so he can get back to Cole. That he loves him just that much. Of course, that is until you think about just what has happened to poor Alex, who essentially goes crazy and dies, for lack of a better way to say it, leaving Damon in control. I appreciate how Blake manages to keep the story just on the right side of horror; there is no question this is an epic romance, that there is a true love between Damon and Cole we get to see come to life. But the story doesn’t shy away from what went on in order to get these men back together.
The story is very much focused on the present, and we only get the tiniest bit of backstory on Cole and Damon’s relationship, or on either of the men. The tense/POV again helps with that immediacy and the story is very much about what is happening now. I never felt like I missed the backstory on the relationship, but I did feel like I needed more understanding of Cole, just because things are mentioned that are never fully clear. He has a complicated family dynamic and that plays into some of his behavior and his decisions, but what exactly went on didn’t feel well explained. Even more, the salvation that allows the men to be together appears without nearly enough explanation for me. It is a little too pat how all the complications get solved. But also, we get some key information about Cole’s relationship with this person that is just dropped there with no explanation and I really needed it. Not just because it was a kind of jaw dropping situation, but also because of the impact it would have had to have on Cole that is never addressed. So I do feel like this aspect was missing for me.
Overall, I found this to be a wonderful, creepily romantic story. As we come up on Halloween, it would be a great choice for something a little horrifying, but also sweepingly romantic at the same time. We get a lovely happy ending and an epic romance, but just enough creepiness to give this one a nice bit of edge.