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Literature / The Hearts We Sold

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Her heart is no longer hers to give.

I chose this.

A 2017 YA novel by Emily Lloyd-Jones.

Dee Moreno needs money. Fast. She's about to lose her scholarship to boarding school, and she can't go home. Luckily, Dee lives in a world where demons can make deals with humans in exchange for body parts. The Agathodaemon (or, Daemon, if you prefer) offers Dee a deal: he'll pay her tuition for school in exchange for her heart. While he possesses her heart, Dee will work for him, along with some other heartless teenagers. At the end of two years, Dee will get her heart back, and be free to go.

Of course, there's no telling if she'll survive two years.

This book provides examples of...

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Dee's father is emotionally abusive, constantly getting drunk and screaming at Dee for things that aren't her fault. He's also financially abusive, stealing the money her grandmother left her from behind her back. Dee's mom loves her, but is a bystander to the abuse.
    • Riley's parents kicked her out for being transgender.
  • Affably Evil: Downplayed with the Daemon, on both the affable part and the evil part. He has no problem endangering his charges and is rather strict and cold, but he keeps his word and isn't needlessly cruel. He's also interested in the greater good of the world, even if he's not very personable.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl:
    • Dee is a brunette, and is incredibly distant from other people, even Gremma, her best friend. However, she's never mean about it, and she gets better about opening up as the story goes on.
    • The Daemon is a male version. Unlike Dee, he never fully defrosts.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Dee is obviously very into James, but she spends a lot of time admiring other girls' looks. Especially Gremma, who actually is gay.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: In the first chapter, Dee meets the Daemon outside the hospital, and berates him for camping out at a place where people and their loved ones are sick, injured, and dying — and thus, desperate enough to make a Deal with the Devil. She accuses him of going for low-hanging fruit... and he shuts her up by informing her that the only people who can spot demons for what they are are people who want to make a deal.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: The Daemon is always impeccably dressed, and is capable of great magical feats.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Demons give you what you ask for; no more, no less. A girl Dee meets at a party who made a deal tells her about how her wish was for her parents to be in love again — but demons can't change people's emotions. So, the girl wished for her parents to stay married. They are still together, but they hate each other more than ever. Averted, however, with the deals the Daemon makes — he doesn't screw anyone over, accidentally or otherwise.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Turns out the burrowers are responsible for the destruction of Pompeii.
  • Beta Couple: The main focus is on Dee/James, but late in the story, Gremma hooks up with Riley, and it's very smooth sailing for them.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Readers who know Ancient Greek may spot early on that Cora's misgivings are off the mark, because the Agathodaemon's name translates roughly to "good/noble guardian spirit".
  • Bittersweet Ending: The disaster that could've ended the world is averted, and Dee and Cora are both released from their contracts. Dee also asks the Daemon to use her heart to release Riley, too, though it's unclear if he'll do so. (He has no further use for Riley, so there's no reason for him not to, though.) Dee never has to return to her abusive parents ever again. Riley has found a happy home, and is dating Gremma, whose parents are delighted to meet Riley. However, Cal and James are both dead, and the disaster will resurface in a few decades or centuries, meaning the Daemon will have to go through this whole process again.
  • Book Ends: The story begins and ends with Dee talking to the Daemon as he sits outside, knitting.
  • Broken Bird: Dee, at the start. Her home life is terrible, and if she doesn't find a way to pay for school, she'll be forced to return to her abusive father with no escape. So she makes a Deal with the Devil. And then one of her friends and her boyfriend dies. The end of the story implies she's slowly recovering, but sheesh.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Cora tries to shoot the Daemon. She's lucky she doesn't end up dead as a result.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Dee's put up with a lot of crap from her father, but when she finds out he stole her inheritance that she got from her grandmother, she finally lets him have it.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: A downplayed example, as a lot of the conflict still would've happened regardless, but Dee points out to the Daemon that he could've avoided a lot of trouble if he'd just told people what he needed them for, rather than being vague and letting them find out on the job. The Daemon explains that he didn't think anyone would be selfless (or stupid) enough to willingly risk their lives for the greater good if he told people upfront what the job actually entailed. Dee disagrees, saying she thinks people would step up to the plate if they were asked.
  • Creepy Blue Eyes: The Daemon has bright blue eyes, which add to his handsome-but-unnerving appearance.
  • Cynical Mentor: The Daemon doesn't think much of the world, the heartless troop, or humanity in general. He's here to get a job done, and mostly treats the kids as a means to an end, albeit with a few Pet the Dog moments thrown in.
  • Deal with the Devil: The basis for the plot, though the demons aren't so much hellish as they are odd.
  • Death of a Child: Cal and James, who are eighteen at the oldest, both die, and James confirms that other teens under the Daemon's watch have died before.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Dee's at first rather cold, though that's due to years of abuse. Being around Gremma chips away at the exterior, but James melts it altogether.
  • Demolitions Expert: Cal is in charge of making things blow up when the heartless troop fights monsters. Riley picks up the slack after Cal dies, with much more gusto.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Morenos are not happy, to say the least.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: The Daemon is a male version; pale skin with dark hair, and extremely unnerving.
  • Elaborate University High: Brannigan. Justified, as it's a very expensive boarding school in the Pacific northwest.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The demons need to make deals to fight them.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Cal considers his full name — Carroll — to be this.
  • The Extremist Was Right: The Daemon is viewed as a foolish extremist by most of his kind, and considering two people wind up dead because of his methods, and the fact that he's willing to break the no-killing rule to make deals, they may have a point. However, it's his methods that wind up working.
  • Fantastic Racism: Downplayed, but still there — a lot of humans dislike and distrust demons, to the point of not wanting to associate with those who have done deals with them. Demons aren't exactly fond of humans, either, but will work with them.
  • Fiery Redhead: Gremma has bright red hair, and a hotheaded personality to match.
  • Five-Man Band: The heartless troop qualifies.
    • The Leader: The Daemon, who tells the troop what to do and recruited everyone.
    • The Lancer: Cora, who challenges the Daemon the most often, but is also the one who keeps everything running like a well-oiled machine.
    • The Big Guy: James, who cracks jokes and jumps into everything at a moment's notice.
    • The Smart Guy: Cal, the research and technology expert.
    • The Heart: Dee, the Only Sane Man who tries to keep everyone else from killing each other.
    • The Sixth Ranger: Riley, who doesn't join the group until about 3/4 of the way into the book.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: It's implied that the Daemon is this to the rest of the demons. At best, they seem rather dismissive of him and his methods, even though it's repeatedly shown throughout the story that he's right.
  • Foster Kid: James grew up in foster care, and aged out of the system.
  • Girl with Psycho Weapon: Cora and her gun. Lampshaded by another character who notes that she got a concealed carry licence as soon as she turned eighteen.
    Most people get a tattoo or smoke, but no, Cora just had to be original...
  • Go-Getter Girl: Cora is very busy, with internships and school and such.
  • Good All Along: The Daemon isn't exactly fun to be around, but he turns out to be trying to save the world, and in the end, treats Dee fairly.
  • Good Is Not Nice: The Daemon. He's not actually evil, he's just sort of a prick.
  • Graceful Loser: The Daemon handles it with class when Dee and James manage to get Dee out of her contract early due to Loophole Abuse, and simply lets Dee go.
  • Heart Symbol: Used on the cover, to represent the concept of physical hearts.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • In the backstory, Cal made his deal with the Daemon to save his ailing grandfather's life.
    • At the end, James gives his life to release Dee from her contract.
  • Hot-Blooded: Gremma doesn't do anything by halves, and got roomed with Dee because she and her first roommate were at war.
  • Hypocritical Heartwarming: The Daemon is pretty dismissive towards the heartless troop, and makes dry remarks at their expense frequently, but he defends them to other demons. It's partially because of this that Dee believes he does care about them, at least a tiny bit.
  • In-Series Nickname:
    • Cal's full name is "Carroll," which he hates.
    • "Dee" is short for "Deirdre."
    • The Agathodaemon is called "the Daemon" by the kids, since his full name is a bit of a mouthful. (James apparently once tried to call him "Aggy," which earned him some threats involving his entrails being ripped out.)
  • Invisible to Normals: A variant. Everyone can see demons, but most people will just see an ordinary human. Only those interested in making a deal can recognize them for what they are.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The Daemon says the heartless troop has no room to complain, since none of them are working for free, nor did he force anyone to make a deal with him. While he didn't tell them what exactly they were signing up for, Dee admits he's not exactly wrong.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Gremma. She's abrasive and sarcastic, but she cares deeply for Dee, and helps out whenever she can.
    • Cora, too. She's incredibly cold and had the Daemon kill somebody, but she cares about the others.
    • One could make a case for the Daemon, though it's more like a nugget of gold buried deep in a heart of ice. As impersonal and strict as he is, he's trying to save the world, and the ending shows he's gained at least some respect for Dee and the others.
  • Karma Houdini: Cora never gets any punishment for killing Cal by accident, or having the Daemon kill someone for her on purpose.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Everyone in the heartless troop has been through hell and back, but they're all willing to keep fighting to save the world — albeit, with some coercion from their boss.
  • Lack of Empathy: The Daemon has very little regard for his charges on a personal level, and only seems mildly annoyed when they nearly die. Possibly subverted, as it's implied that he's either intentionally throwing up a mask over his true feelings, or that he's just bad at expressing them. Many lines give the distinct impression he does care on some level, though.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Subverted. The Daemon's kind all think he's this, since he breaks the rules and works closely with humans, who are quite unpredictable. However, it's his methods that work, and by human standards, he's ruthlessly pragmatic.
  • Legend Fades to Myth: According to the narrative, demons have always been around, revealing themselves every now and then when they need to make deals with humans. Then, once they've got what they need, they vanish again. The stories about them gradually become viewed as fiction and myth, and soon, humans are back to believing that demons aren't real. Until the next time they resurface, and the cycle starts over. The Daemon admits he thinks it'll be different this time, since they've resurfaced in The New '10s — the age of smartphones, the internet, and video recordings. There's no denying what happened was real this time.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Gremma is gay, but doesn't act particularly masculine.
  • Loophole Abuse: It's said that demons will let humans go if they manage to beat them at their own game, fair-and-square. It's true. James and Dee game the system at the end, though Dee doesn't realize it at first. The deal is that as long as they're heartless, they have to work for the Daemon. The Daemon has their hearts locked up. He also needs them heartless so they can work for him without dying instantly. James' contract ends, so the Daemon gives him his heart back... but James doesn't put it back in, and instead hangs onto it, remaining heartless. Then, he gives his heart to Dee... which kills James, but means Dee now has a heart again, making her effectively useless to the Daemon. The Daemon accepts this, and lets Dee go without any further hassle.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: James is a genderflipped version. His lust for life and kindness gets Dee out of her funk.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: An oft-debated topic among the heartless troop is whether demons are magical or simply a new species, explainable by science that humans haven't discovered yet. The ending reveals it's the latter.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • "Cora" means "heart." Cora is one of the teens who sold her heart to the Daemon.
    • "Riley" means "courageous." Riley is an explosions-loving girl who is making her own way in the world after being thrown out by her parents.
    • "Deirdre" means "sorrowful," befitting a Broken Bird like Deirdre "Dee" Moreno.
    • "Daemon" is short for "Agathodaemon." In Greek mythology, the Agathodaemon is a benevolent spirit who provides luck, health and wisdom. So maybe we shouldn't be surprised that the Daemon was Good All Along.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: The only onscreen deaths go to Cal and James. The girls all survive unscathed.
  • Nice Guy: James is the nicest of the heartless troop, cracking jokes to ease tension and slowly melting Dee's icy exterior.
  • Noodle Incident: We never find out who Cora had killed, or why.
  • No Periods, Period: Played with. Having your heart removed stops your body from physically changing as long as its out; for instance, the Daemon tells Dee she'll stop aging while she's under contract. (However, since she's only eighteen and the contract is only for two years, it won't be noticeable to anyone, so this isn't a problem.) One side effect Dee notes is that she stops having her period, as well. Gremma comments that this is almost enough to make her consider taking a deal.
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: Demons as a whole. They're not nice, but they're far from villainous. They're making deals not for any nefarious reason, but because they're trying to protect the world — partially because, you know, they live there.
  • Not What I Signed on For: James and Cora both argue this when they find out what the Daemon needs them for.
  • Oblivious to Love: Dee is stubbornly oblivious to the fact that James loves her, and that she loves him back, until Gremma points it out to her multiple times. This is mostly due to her home life and emotional state being an absolute mess.
  • Oh, Crap!: Everyone's response when the Daemon explains that the last place the burrowers managed to get through the void was Pompeii. And they live in an area with lots of volcanoes...
  • Older Than They Look: The Daemon appears as an attractive man in his mid-thirties, but his real age is implied to be somewhere in the millennia.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Dee's the most levelheaded of the main characters.
    • The Daemon is revealed to be this among demons, being willing to work with humans to more effectively fight the monsters.
  • Open-Minded Parent: Gremma's parents were 100% cool with her being gay — Gremma even saw that they'd Googled articles about how to be supportive after she came out.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Demons in this world have some degree of magical powers, but it's unclear how far they go or how, exactly, they work. They make deals with humans — if a human gives up a body part, a demon will grant them one wish. However, demons can't change humans' minds or emotions, and won't physically harm them. (It's not that they can't — they won't.) They appear as ordinary humans, but those interested in making a deal can spot them for what they are. Some humans believe they're from Hell, but they're keeping mum on this, and they don't appear to be inherently evil, or even inherently cruel. It's revealed that they're actually aliens, but got labelled demons by humans, and decided to just roll with it. Their homeworld was destroyed eons ago, so they now reside on Earth. They also fight Eldritch Abominations, since if the world is destroyed, they'll have to relocate again.
  • Pet the Dog: Every now and then, the Daemon will hint at a slightly kinder side underneath. Giving Dee way more money than she needs is a standout, as is him letting her go at the end when she and James find a loophole in the contract. He also turns up to see Dee at the end, despite having no reason to do so.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: James actively takes this role, cracking jokes to prevent everyone from going insane.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The demons won't harm humans directly, since they want to keep human-demon relations as pleasant as possible. The Daemon, however, is willing to do it, for the right price.
  • The Precious, Precious Car: The Daemon is very proud of his car, and is very unhappy when it looks like someone might throw up in it.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The heartless troop. We've got a pseudo-Mad Scientist, a strict, no-nonsense Go-Getter Girl who had someone killed, a happy-go-lucky artist who's Secretly Dying, an explosions-happy homeless teen, and an Only Sane Man with a crappy homelife. And they're led by a demon.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: The Daemon has pale skin and black hair. Dee describes him as "absurdly attractive" at one point.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: The Daemon is introduced knitting. He knits replacement hearts to act as a substitutes to the ones he takes.
  • Recruit Teenagers with Attitude: The heartless troop is made up entirely of teenagers, and the Daemon seems to deal with them exclusively. It turns out to be because the older you are, the less likely you are to survive a fight with a monster. Teenagers have no guarantee of making it, either, but they have the best chances. Presumably, anyone younger would be too much hassle to work with.
  • Rousseau Was Right: The book ends with Dee making this conclusion, believing that, if given the chance, people will do the right thing.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Cal dies about halfway through to show what happens when a heartless person is separated from the substitute heart.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Cora doesn't assist in the final battle. The second her contract is up, she's out.
  • Secretly Dying: James has a brain tumor. As long as his heart is out, it won't progress to the point that it can kill him.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: The Daemon is always in a nice suit.
  • Shipper on Deck: Gremma supports James/Dee. Dee and James also like the idea of Gremma dating Riley, though James wishes they wouldn't make out on his couch.
  • The Snark Knight: Both Dee and the Daemon have these tendencies, being cynical and prone to sarcasm, but still fighting on.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Gremma is filthy rich and goes on expensive vacations, but she's a good friend to Dee, doesn't judge her for her own economic situation, and insists on bringing her home with her to cheer her up after James dies.
  • Stepford Smiler:
    • Dee behaves happy and cheerful whenever she sees her parents, for fear of making the abuse worse if she hints at how she really feels.
    • James acts so plucky and friendly, you'd never guess he's got a brain tumor.
  • The Stoic: The Daemon rarely shows any outward emotion. If he does, he's pissed.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: Demons aren't really magical — they're aliens with abilities that human science has yet to comprehend. But when they first turned up on Earth, humans labelled them demons and attributed all their abilities to magic, and the demons pretty much decided to just go with it and let the humans believe what they wanted, since it's as good a term for them as any.
  • Survival Mantra: "I chose this."
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Despite her distrust of him, Dee can't help but find the Daemon beautiful in his own way...
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: ...And he's got quite a mouth on him, too.
  • Team Mom: Cora takes it on herself to explain to new additions to the heartless troop what the deal is, and tries to look out for them whenever she can.
  • Their First Time: Dee loses her virginity to James.
  • Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World: Dee has to learn how to balance her academics with working for the Daemon. Justified, since she loves Brannigan, and her desire to stay there is the reason she made a deal in the first place.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Daemon. It doesn't get much more well-intentioned than saving the world, but he puts innocent lives in danger in the process.
  • Wham Line: When looking at James' brain scan, which reveals a tumor.
    Gremma: I'd give this person two, three months, at the most.
    Dee: Two years, actually.
  • Wizards from Outer Space: Cal's theory for what, exactly, the demons are. He thinks they're not magical, but extraterrestrial species that humans hadn't discovered before they revealed themselves. The final chapters reveal that he's right, although as far as Dee is concerned, their abilities are still basically magic.
  • World of Snark: Everyone's a Deadpan Snarker in this book. Everyone.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: Demons don't think much of humans in general, but it's implied that the Daemon gains a bit of respect for the heartless troop after they prove to him that they have more than a snowball's chance in Hell.