Pros: Not only were the characters extremely sympathetic, they were mature as well.
Cons: Not all readers may appreciate some of the religious threads that run through the story.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
Annalise Marony has had a realization: her upcoming arranged marriage isn’t going to work. Traveling to the Motherhouse of the Order of Solace, she becomes an initiate to buy herself some time and allow the betrothal to be nullified. The Order, however, is selective in who they accept to become a novitiate and Annalise finds herself more often hindered than helped. Cassian, a former priest who teaches the novitiates of the faith, is particularly frustrating. Annalise knows of the responsibilities that fall to a Handmaiden, but her faith is shaky. Spending time with Cassian creates sparks that cannot be denied, but the two are like oil and water. Even as they challenge each other, they grow closer to achieving their own solace.
I was fascinated by the world that I got to explore in Megan Hart’s first Order of Solace book, Pleasure and Purpose, and I was thrilled that Selfish is the Heart didn’t disappoint! The phenomenal world-building continues, along with characters that I simply can’t get enough of. What really impresses me the most about this series is Ms. Hart’s ability to create a religion that fuses many different elements together and weave it so deeply into the story that it heavily shapes the protagonists and their development. “Pleasure and Purpose” left me wanting to know more about the faith, and “Selfish is the Heart” gave a lot of insight into it. I really appreciated the idea that even amongst scholars and priests, there was still significant debate about the meanings of texts as well as some of the events in the gods’ lives. That ambiguity pulled me right into the story, because I was questioning my perceptions of the faith almost as much as the characters themselves were. I should mention that at times it feels as if there is a bit of religious commentary going on. I personally love exploring themes like this in stories, but not every reader may be looking for that kind of thing in their erotica.
The characters themselves were a joy to spend time with. They have a maturity, a talent for self-introspection, that makes watching them grow throughout the story extremely rewarding for me as a reader. Heroes and heroines in historical and/or fantasy romances seem to lean towards shallow, brooding, self-centered perspectives of their lives that result in not-always-so-compelling conflicts. I can’t help but think that by placing religious considerations so close to the hearts of the heroines Ms. Hart has actually given her characters a broader canvas for character development. Suddenly, instead of just the more visceral emotional feelings of romance the reader is able to watch an evolution of personal belief and philosophy as well as the budding of a new relationship. Finding myself in some places just as unsure as the characters were made it so much easier to get lost in their heads, as well as making the ending much more satisfying and believable.
Another thing that makes it easy to relate to the characters is the fact that because the story takes place in the Motherhouse of the Order of Solace, there are very few distractions outside of the life there. Maybe I’ve just been overdosing on historical romances lately, but focusing so intensely on Annalise and Cassian without seemingly frivolous societal interruptions was a very nice change of pace. At the end of the story, I felt like I not only knew these characters but had shared a journey with them as well. For me, that’s a much more rewarding experience as a reader rather than feeling like I’m simply watching a story unfold.
Returning to the Order of Solace world was a bit scary for me, because my expectations were so high from “Pleasure and Purpose”. Ms. Hart, however, did not disappoint. We get to understand not only more about the world that the series exists in, but about how the faith and the Order work as well. I can tell that I’m going to continue to love this series, because of all of the rich lore that only enriches my experiences with the characters. There is a maturity and poise to them that I’ve really been missing in romance/erotica characters lately, and I really enjoyed having that particular itch scratched. (It also makes certain scenes even more intense, because I feel so connected to them!) There’s a depth to this world that keeps me eagerly awaiting each new installation since I can’t wait to see who and what I’m going to discover this time. Plus, these are books that occur in the same world, but can be read in any order. The more you read, though, the more you will find yourself picking up on little details that add to the overall experience. The Order of Solace novels are, beyond a doubt, my favorite romance/erotica series, and definite keepers.