Heart of Stone
by C.E. Murphy
(Luna, $14.95, PG) ISBN 0-373-80292-7
**
Well, we’ve had romance with vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, and ghosts; why not gargoyles too? Heart of Stone explores the budding relationship between a New York lawyer and a man who turns to stone by day, but takes a human form at night. First in a trilogy called “The Negotiator,” it’s only marginally successful.

Margrit Knight is jogging alone through Central Park one night (and she admits this is stupid, but it doesn’t make her any less stupid for doing it) when she meets a pale stranger in a suit who attempts to chat her up. Margrit quickly leaves him, and is stunned to hear on the news later that night that the police are looking for a man of his description as the prime suspect in a brutal murder.

The man, Alban Korund, is a gargoyle. He’s been watching Margrit for a long time, trying to get up the nerve to speak with her. Just his luck; on the night when he finally succeeds, he’s framed for murder. Now he needs her help to find out who is behind it all. Alban is one of the Old Races, various beings who have hidden their identities from humans. By revealing himself to Margrit, he’s taking a risk, but it seems to be his only hope - both of getting to know her and clearing his name.

Margrit is equally bemused to find herself attracted to Alban. Before she knows it, she’s involved in representing a selkie woman and child who are about to be evicted from an abandoned building. There’s also a woman who might be a pirate, as well as a dragonlord and a vampire or two. And how can she possibly have a relationship with a man who spends his days perched on the side of a building?

This novel just didn’t capture my interest. Margrit starts out as foolhardy; the author excuses her nighttime jogging routing with the comment (via Alban) that she could “outpace any enemy that might approach.” Hope she’s faster than a speeding bullet. Margrit is involved with a police detective named Tony in an on-again, off-again relationship, apparently so there is at least one person in the book who can object to her interest in Alban. The reader knows he’s a gargoyle simply by reading the cover blurb, but it takes a good third of the book for this to be revealed, and it’s a hard slog for the reader. In essence, this book just didn’t pick up much steam until about the halfway point.

The various creatures of the night are introduced, one assumes, to acquaint readers with their world, as it’s here that the next two books in the trilogy will be set as well. Necessary, maybe, but it was a “kitchen sink” style of plotting that felt a bit forced. Margrit and Alban do no more than share a kiss, so it’s hard to work up much excitement over their supposed romance. Maybe the author is saving that for future development, but I felt cheated.

Heart of Stone left me cold. If urban fantasy is your thing and you aren’t looking for a solid romance tucked in, this might well be more to your liking, but I just can’t recommend it.

--Cathy Sova


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