Sunday, November 14

Heart of Gold - Sharon Shinn

Nolan Adelpho is an Indigo immunologist at Biolab in Central City though, like all wellborn Inriho men, his is less a career than employment until he and his betrothed, Analeese, marry. His specialty is viruses that affect gulden, a golden-hued race with whom his live in uneasy harmony. Until he moved to Central City, Nolan had never met a gulden, but now he works with them, and has been surprised by their similarities, and the enormous cultural differences between them – Indigos are matriarchal, Gulden are even more patriarchal, and there is almost no overlap between the two. Gulden/Indigo tensions heighten when a series of terrorist attacks targeting Indigo structures kill dozens and cripple the city. As panic and fear take hold, Nolan becomes increasingly suspicious about the selectivity of the virus, and about the cause of the violence. A chance meeting with Kitrini Candachi, controversial granddaughter of one of Indigo’s selective Higher Hundred matriarchs, starts Nolan on a journey he could never have imagined. Kit’s grandfather, Casen Solvano, was an anthropologist who lived among the gulden, and her lover, Jex, is the imprisoned rebel-leading son of gulden leader Chay Zanlan. Heart of Gold is a well-crafted mystery novel in its own right, but set against this fascinating, unique and beautifully detailed world it shines. Previously seen in the novella "Blood" in the Quatrain collection, this three-race land has the depth, breadth and contrast of Shinn’s five-part (to date) Samaria series, without in any way drawing on it. While some of the same themes emerge in the societal contrasts – primarily revolving around cultural embedding and gender roles – the mechanisms are quite different; there they’re illuminated by the presence of a male-dominated/female-subjugating culture that invites favourable contrast with our relative equality, here the female-dominant/male-subordinate Inrhio norms that Nolan accepts unquestioningly are contrasted both with the patriarchal Gelricht traditions and, more obliquely, with our still gender-biased patterns. It is a testament to Shinn’s skill that this sociological study is subtle, covert, and in no way dominates the text. As with all her novels I closed Heart of Gold with a mixed sense of satiety and desire for more. I’m also eager to learn more about the albino race that skirts the perimeter of the novel but do not figure in the narrative. I have thoroughly enjoyed Shinn’s Thirteen Houses series and her Samaria quintet, but though I’d be delighted to read her shopping list I really want to see another novel set here. - Alex

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