Aiden Lobo is at college where he studies various aspects of the Diving and the Light. Aiden has lusted after Tanner—roommate of his best friend, Cassandra—for a long time. And why not? Tanner is an attractive man; he even seems very into Aiden, as well. When the chance to be alone together finally arises, everyone seems to breathe a sigh of relief that these two fated lovers will finally get to be, well, lovers. On what should be their first romantic walk across the campus, however, disaster strikes. Aiden falls into a trap designed to turn him into a sacrifice for the sake of bringing Aeshma, a powerful demon of wrath, into the world. It doesn’t help that Aiden has no magic of his own with which to defend himself, leaving him wide open to attack.
However, Aiden is not entirely at the mercy of these dark forces. Cassandra has always tried to help protect Aiden through her charmed amulets. These amulets provide Aiden with both a guardian spirit and, he learns, the ability to call on his very own guardian angel. The angel, whom Aiden names Eskander, is devoted to protecting him. Eskander even manages to stop the immediate threat to Aiden’s existence. But the sacrificial ritual still leaves a literal crack in Aiden’s heart, through which Aeshma will eventually break. And if Aeshma gains access to this world, it will mean more than just Aiden’s death—legend holds that hundreds of millions will also perish.
Aiden knows what he has to do…simply die. But with a guardian angel who will stop at nothing to protect Aiden for as long as possible, Aiden suddenly wants very much to find something, anything, to cure this crack in his heart. Aiden wants to save his angel even more than he wants to save himself. But will Eskander and Cassandra be able to help before Aiden’s time is up?
A Crack in the Heart is a contemporary, young adult-ish type story that draws clear lines to religion. As I read the story, the references to guardian angels and the “Light” versus the “Dark” made me think of generic, non-denominational Christian themes. Given my American cultural background, I thought it was great fun to see how much freedom I thought Eskander had to pursue any type of relationship with Aiden and especially how a romantic relationship between Aiden and Eskander seemed to act as a way to regenerate the angel’s power. In other words, I thought there was a complete lack of any sense of shame that I so often see get associated with strong religious beliefs. And having looked up Aeshma for the purposes of this review, I see that it is a reference to Zoroastrianism, which predates and presumably has influenced many other systems of belief. On the one hand, I think the religious references feel pretty nebulously general (light vs. dark). On the other hand, that was enough for me and Singer makes it clear which specific characters fall into the Light camp and which fall into the Dark one.
I think my favorite part of the story is how Singer builds a delightfully convincing unreliable narrator aspect into the story telling. At the heart of the situation is what really happens during the sacrificial ritual that Aiden experiences…if he even experiences it. I think the power of this scene lies in how convincingly it unfolds in first one, then another direction. Because the action is told in third person omniscient from Aiden’s point of view, of course I was one hundred percent accepting of how he first experiences the sacrifice. Towards the end of the action that unfolds at this point, there is a fade to black. The next thing we know, Aiden wakes up not sacrificed and everyone else explains what unfolded on that walk…without a single reference to any of the disastrous events we think Aidan experienced. Personally, I think readers will be able to identify which version of events is the true one before it’s settled on page for the characters, but that just helped me build sympathy for those involved…namely Aiden.
Amidst Aiden coping with this crack in his heart, he falls in love with Eskander, his guardian angel. I thought insta-love was a sensible choice, especially with the knowledge that Eskander chose to be Aiden’s guardian basically from the moment Aiden existed. Even with the built-in romance, I really appreciated Aiden’s reflections on what it meant to love Eskander. For one thing, Aiden is worried there is some taboo about a being from the Light not only falling in love with a mortal, but actively being in love with that mortal. I also liked that Aiden at least stops to wonder why he loves Eskander; sure, the angel is hot, but Aiden feels more than just lust for the angel, and that strikes him as powerful and odd given how little time the two spend together.
My only real criticism is about how Aiden acts when he as he learns more about fixing the crack in his heart. Of course, I think it makes sense he would try anything and everything to find a way to heal himself. And yes, I enjoyed the angst of knowing Eskander can temporarily alleviate the pain from and danger posed by the crack by depleting his own life force. But it just seems like, when push really came to shove, Aiden is still grasping at straws and unwilling to accept his fate. And, to top it all off, in the “moment of truth” when we’re supposed to know which side will win, the timing of the action feels like it muddies the series of events unfolding.
Overall, this is a pretty compelling read. There are plenty of religious concepts woven throughout the world the characters inhabit and the characters themselves. At the same time, I thought the story was largely free from fire-and-brimstone-if-you’re-gay type religious tropes. Singer addresses the romance between Aiden and Eskander well, giving the relationship more legs to stand on than mere lust and not avoiding the “but why should they fall in love” aspect of quick get togethers.