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23 June 2009 Blog Home : June 2009 : Permalink

Heart and Soul Trilogy - Sarah A Hoyt

One of the interesting questions people ask is what are good books for people who like to mix speculative fiction and roamnce up together. The classic "gateway" drug author for Romance readers who want a little more oomph to their fantasy reading diet than sex with vampires is Lois M Bujold, in particular the Sharing Knife series (reviews of Book 1 and book 4). However not only are the limits to the Bujold oeuvre in terms of quantity (she hasn't written that much) there is also the point that she hasn't written in all sorts of subgenres.

One subgenre she has ignored is the "shape-shifter" one. Another is the alternate history one. So if you think it would be cool to read a romance about were-creatures in a mythical sort of past then Lois is not your author. Howver, help is at hand for Romance readers who like the idea of a little shape-shifty fantasy Victoriana because Sarah A Hoyt has written a great trilogy combining were-dragons, the late Victorian British Empire and lots of romance.

What she has produced are three books that can be read in any order (I read them in order 2, 3, 1) or as stand alones but which make a good series if you happen to get them in the right order.

The books are set in a version of the British Empire where Magic works. For various reasons which are somewhat central to the plot, the European aristocracy has the ability to perform more magic than other people and hence they have conquered the rest of the world. Unfortunately the magic has spread itself a bit too thinly (all those randy nobles and their byblows) and hence the ability of the Europeans, and particularly the British, to dominate the rest is becoming harder. British magicians have however identified a way to concentrate the magic back again. The key to this is to be found somewhere in Africa and so the British Secret Service dispatch an agent via Carpetship to Cairo to do his duty to the crown. Said agent is newly wed and the honeymoon is used as a cover for their travels. Well it turns out that for various reasons the agent (one of our heroes) has determined that he will not in fact consumate his marriage to the great consternation his new bride (our heroine). This is just one of the tropes that this series inherits from the Romance side of the family (mother G Heyer, grandmother J Austen ...), others include - in book two - a young gel being forced into a betrothal against her will and being rescued from it by a handsome stranger. More than that I shall not say save that as in all Romances everyone ends up living Happily Ever After.

On the fantasy side you can put these books in at the thoughtful end of the spectrum. There are rules to the magic and its use. One can also see these books as echoing the usual Fantasy topes of "Mcguffin quest" and/or "save the key to the universe from the dark evil overlord" but, as with the Romance ones, the stories combine them to make something different, with - let it be noted - a rather good subtext about the truly dreadful racist attitudes of the 19th century European. However that subtext is there merely as background to a cracking good tale or three and in contrast to more overtly political books not all the bad guys are whites, nor are all or even most of the good guys and gals dusky hued. Furthermore there is at least one redemption involving one the more or less baddie British figures finding true love in the arms of his Indian junior.

For non romance, non Fantasy readers these might also serve as a gateway for the sorts of people who have enjoyed the tales of H Rider Haggard, Wilkie Collins or Kipling, not to mention devotees of Tarzan. If you like reading about explorers in deepest darkest Africa or the mysterious jewels of Indian Rajahs you'll get a kick out of these books too, They are indeed a very nice blending of genres and tropes and strongly recommended.