Heaven | Stand-Alone | ISBN 9781408314661 | Orchard Books, 2012 | 5 out of 5 Points
“The night that Heaven lost her heart was cold and moonless. But the blade that sliced it out was warm with her dark blood… David Pettyfer is taking a shortcut over the dark rooftops of London’s brooding houses, when he literally stumbles across Heaven: a strange, beautiful, distraught girl who says that bad men have stolen her heart. Yet she’s still alive…
And so begins David and Heaven’s wild, exciting and mysterious adventure—to find Heaven’s heart, and to discover the incredible truth about her origins. Part thriller, part love story and part fairy tale, this brilliantly original novel from a bestselling German author will take your breath away…“
“Heaven” is one of my all time favourite novels and yet nobody knows about it. I think more people should though, especially those who like dark fairytales and unusual YA fiction. There’s a quote from “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from “Mary Poppins” in the front of the book and if you know that particular scene of the film, you’ll have a bit of an idea of the atmosphere “Heaven” evokes. If you love it as much as I do you absolutely need to read “Heaven”. “Heaven” is all about the secret hidden corners of London, its many rooftops and what hides in the shadows. “Heaven” is the kind of beautiful gloomy paranormal romance you’ll devour if you like magical realism more than straight-on Fantasy. It’s also Marzi’s declaration of love for the city of London but more on that later.
SO THIS IS WHAT IT’S LIKE TO LITERALLY HAVE YOUR HEART STOLEN
Christoph Marzi is honestly one of the best writers whose work I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. I’m not really into all of his stories but his writing is unbelievably beautiful. There’s something mysterious and lilting about it, it’s very opulent and even a little Dickensian – which fits “Heaven” quite well since its antagonist is a nameless entity which is known under a different name from Dickens’s novels in each borough of London. When he steals Heaven’s heart on a Chelsea rooftop, he’s Mr Drood for example. I guess flowery romantic writing isn’t for everyone but if you like this kind of thing, “Heaven” will make you very happy.
I’ve also read Marzi’s “Lycidas”, which I didn’t quite get into, but “Heaven” reeled me in on the spot. We meet protagonist David, a Welsh boy who has run away to London, on a rooftop too, shortly before he stumbles across Heaven. David is an unusual protagonist for a Young Adult novel. He’s a runaway with no intentions to return home, he used to have a social worker looking out for him and he runs errands for a bookshop owner. He’s just not your average schoolboy protagonist and I really like this diversion from Young Adult conventions quite a lot. Heaven is not your usual YA heroine either. Not at all. She lives on a houseboat by herself, has some dark secrets she doesn’t care to reveal and goes under a fake name. To be honest, Heaven had every potential to fall into the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trap: A quirky unusual girl whose sole purpose is to help the male protagonist get his life together.
But Heaven isn’t that, mainly because this is her story first and foremost, not David’s. She’s quirky alright, but she’s mostly an interesting, complicated young woman with a difficult past to work out. I loved Heaven and I also loved that she’s a woman of colour because women of colour rarely get to be love interests in Young Adult fiction and neither do they often get to be well-rounded characters like Heaven is. His knack for unusual but believable characters is Marzi’s big strength. It’s really hard to make your readers accept your teenaged runaway characters because kids living on houseboats and running around the rooftops of London at night can easily seem pretentious or just unrealistic but Marzi makes it work. He crafts a bit of an alternate reality in which London is magical in the most subtlest of ways and somehow in this setting everyday protagonists wouldn’t have worked at all.
A MAGICAL GUIDEBOOK FOR MAGICAL LONDON
Christoph Marzi manages to create a great balance between the modern day London we know and his magical London that reminded me of the London from Victorian gothic stories a lot. It’s a gloomy city, cold, dark, dangerous too, but also beautiful. There’s a patch of sky in Central London that’s always starless and David is fascinated by it, there are dead people walking among the living, there’s the nameless antagonist who steals peoples’ hearts set before the backdrop of 21st century London with its bustling nightlife and towering buildings.
You’ll learn a lot about London from “Heaven”. Christoph Marzi’s love for the city is obvious all throughout the book and he describes it so fondly, it made my heart lighter than the actual love story which I also liked quite a lot. I’ve seen people describe “Heaven” as some sort of magical guidebook but whilst they didn’t mean that in the nice way, I actually quite like it. London isn’t just a setting here, it’s more like a living breathing being that’s part of the story and essential to it. It’s highly subjective whether you’ll like this or not but I adored it quite a lot and I wish more writers would incorporate their novel’s setting this well. It probably works this well because Marzi is such a good writer. There are loads of detailed descriptions that might have made me groan, had they not read like poetry. I actually loved reading them, even though they slowed down the plot a bit now and then.
“Heaven” is a slow book, as you might have guessed by now, concentrating more on making its magical realism and setting work than on its story but that doesn’t mean the story falls short. Once David finds Heaven in distress because her heart has been cut out but she’s still alive, the two of them set out to recover Heaven’s heart and find out why someone would steal hearts in the first place before she dies after all. There’s quite a lot of suspense in this one, “Heaven” is addictive. I couldn’t put it down and at a little over 400 pages strong, “Heaven” is not exactly a quick read. It’s a spell-binding one though and it does get quite spooky too. If you’ve ever been to London in late autumn, picture that. Picture a dark, foggy November night by the Thames. It’s a peculiar feeling and that’s what “Heaven” reads like.
Whether or not you’ll like “Heaven” probably depends on whether you like this kind of story. If you like flowery writing and slower books, dark romances, chilly suspenseful encounters and gloomy fairytales, you should absolutely go for it. People who love London and especially its darker, gloomier days and corners will probably also enjoy “Heaven”. I think “Heaven” is a complicated book though, it’s quite niche in its uniqueness and I think people who prefer classic paranormal romances might have a hard time liking it. I love “Heaven” though, it has a sure place in my heart and so does its indirect sequel “Memory”, which I’m about to reread. “Heaven” is one of those special books for me, there’s just nothing here I didn’t like. I hope you’ll feel the same!
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