1/09/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
Heart Of Light (Magical British Empire book 1) by Sarah A. Hoyt. pub: Bantam Spectra. 502 page paperback. Price: $ 6.99 (US), $ 9.99 (CAN) ISBN: 978-0-553-58966-5.
check out websites: www.bantamdell.com and http://www.sarahahoyt.com
Once upon a time, magic power was equally distributed among all people. Deep in the African jungle is a village where all the magic in the world is centred, in some magical way. Two gems resided there, the Heart of Light and the Soul of Fire. At about the time of Charlemagne, a European nicked the Soul of Fire - he failed to get the Heart of Light - and the European upper classes used it to pull all the magic power in Europe to themselves. This meant the upper classes had magic and the lower orders didn't. Then they went and built empires with it. I think magic power is an allegory for wealth here, the concentration of it in fewer hands mirroring the rise of mercantilism and capitalism.
Now there are anarchic rumblings across Europe and the English royal family is worried. Queen Victoria sends an agent to Africa to get the long lost Soul of Fire for, with both gems in their control, the English will be masters of the world. Carew Oldhall fails, so his younger brother, Nigel, is sent because the Oldhalls have the kind of magic necessary in their genes. Nigel has just married the exotic Emily from India and carts her along with him on a flying carpet ship to Cairo, she not realising that her honeymoon is a pretext for a top secret mission, though she soon finds out. They happen to meet Peter Farewell, an old school friend of Nigel, and after some magical danger is averted, he agrees to accompany them for he is at a loose end. Or is he?
The magical danger came from the Hyena Men, a group out to free Africa from European colonial rule. Kitwana is the deputy leader of the Hyena Men and with his assistant, Nassira, a proud Masai woman, he, too, is after the magic jewel. So when Nigel, Emily and Peter mount a Safari expedition to find the target village Kitwana, Nassira and other Hyena Men get jobs as native bearers on the trip. The stage is set for adventure!
The point of view characters are Nigel, Emily, Kitwana and Nassira and this works. It gives a nice cross-section of class and culture in this magical Victorian empire. Nigel is the public school educated younger brother who feels inferior to both the dashing Carew and to Peter Farewell who seems competent in all things. Emily is the bride raised in India who realises that a woman must ever be tied to some man in this world to get on, though she doesn't like it. Nassira is a proud Masai woman who, as her father's only child, grew up rather boyish - not likely at the time but good for the story. Kitwana has secrets I won't give away but he's a pretty decent chap. All of them are essentially good but fate has set them in opposition.
Nigel spends too much time worrying about what Emily is thinking, especially about his physical failure on honeymoon night and Emily spends too much time worrying about what Nigel is thinking. The reader, blessed with both their points of view, knows that each one is completely wrong about the other and that is why they keep falling out. However, this is probably an accurate portrayal of romantic relationships, alas. The point of view switches every chapter help to maintain suspense as each character is left in difficulty and the reader has to wait three chapters to get back to them. This is an old technique now in adventure fiction but it still works well. For a single point of view character not to get boring over a whole novel, he or she has to be pretty fascinating. Multiple viewpoints are a safer bet.
This was an enjoyable romp. There is perhaps a dash of Mills and Boon about the oh-so-romantic yearning that goes on. The fictional world created was original and self consistent. I liked it and happily I have the sequel, 'Soul of Fire' to hand. I shall read it at once.
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