Heart of Light
by Sarah A. Hoyt
Review by Carolyn Frank
Spectra Mass Market ISBN/ITEM#: 9780553589665
Date: 26 February 2008 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In 1889, in Victorian-era Africa, in a world of unevenly held magic, Nigel Oldhall and his new wife, Emily, are following the trail to one of the world's major sources of magic, the Heart of Light. Nigel has been recruited to follow in the heels of his older and far-more-able-but-now-feared-dead brother to retrieve this ruby for his queen, Queen Victoria. However, he has not so informed his new bride and indeed, has very little idea of how to accomplish this task. He does have a compass stone which should lead him in the correct direction, but he does not know how to unlock the power within it.
The environment is 19th-century Africa, seen mostly through the eyes of an English gentleman, but with flying carpets, a dragon, and magelights. The wide variety of African tribes is represented, with an emphasis on the distinctively tall, cattle-herding Masai. Various native fauna, lions, rhinos and elephants, play significant roles in the adventure. And as Nigel and Emily end up walking across a wide swath of the continent, many different local geographies are depicted quite graphically, and presumably accurately. The travelogue aspect of the novel slows the pace of the adventure, making the book easy to put down and hard to pick back up, unless the reader is fascinated by the thought of Africa.
Nigel and Emily meet up with Nigel's boyhood best friend, Peter Farewell, in Cairo, and he ends up accompanying them into the heart of Africa. Nigel is glad of the familiar company, although he finds something unsettling about him. Peter, who has traveled quite extensively around the world, turns out to be quite helpful on their quest. This is important, as Nigel and Emily have run afoul of the Hyena Men, a group of Africans also after the Heart of Light. The Hyena Men are seeking to obtain it for their leader, who intends to unite Africa into as strong a force as the British Empire. This ongoing rivalry broadens the already wide gulf in understanding between the English and the natives.
This is a fantasy quest tale, although happily lacking the worst of the coming-of-age repertoire. Nigel, Emily, Peter and their Africa counterparts are all adults, but they are still seeking their place in the world. In addition to their varying amount of magical power, they have sense, and respect for life, and compassion toward others.
This is the first book of the author's British Magic Empire series, and as such, spends a great deal of time introducing the characters, the magic and the world. If the reader does not have the time for this rather long book, the story does not inspire making the time to read it. Readers who enjoy these folk and their slowly unfurling adventures should enjoy the forthcoming books as well.