There’s a sub-sub-sub genre of books out there I’ll call “Baffling Worlds.” The main character is in a world so bizarre and with such strange rules that it’s not clear whether they’re on an alien planet, in a magical landscape, or in a surreal dream. The focus of the book is not on character development or having adventures, but in the reader slowly learning about how this strange world works. Hearts of Oak is one of these books.
In Hearts of Oak, there is a single city that is always growing. New buildings are constantly being built, and that has always been the way, at least that’s what Iona, the city’s chief architect, thinks. She thought she was close to retirement, but now she’s not so sure. People are acting strangely, or maybe they always have. As Iona unravels the layers of mystery surrounding her world and her life, things get stranger and stranger.
This book is gentle and interesting. Its characters are thin, and I never really connected with any of them. I also never really felt things were important or that the stakes were particularly high. However, I was curious about the odd world of the book, and happily kept reading to find out more about it.
Recommendation: Read it. It’s a fun palate cleanser between big space operas.