Sarah A. Hoyt
2008, Fantasy Fiction (Victorian India)
Bantam Spectra, $6.99, 464 pages, Amazon ASIN 0553589679 Part of a series
In addition to romance, fantasy and historical fiction are both great loves of mine. In Soul of Fire, Sarah A. Hoyt blends both quite artfully into an unforgettable adventure story. Though set in a Victorian world that never was, I almost wish it could have existed. For a tale populated with flying carpets, a were-dragon, mystical tigers, and were-monkey royalty, the world created here manages to be surprisingly believable. At times the story casts a spell so powerful you'll swear it could really happen.
Sofie Warington comes from a family gifted with only minor magic and an even more minor fortune. Though born in India, her family sent her to England to be educated and, hopefully, to make a suitable match. However, she returns to India after her parents summon her unexpectedly, soon making clear the reason for her hasty return: A native prince wishes to marry her and has promised to make her his only wife. Sofie finds the prince disturbing and odious and learns that he wishes her primarily for the unique but flawed ruby she will bring as a dowry.
Fearing the marriage, Sofie decides to flee her parents' home and seek one Captain William Blacklock, a man who danced attendance on her in England. As Sofie sneaks away from her parents' home, her perch crumbles beneath her and a mysterious dragon rescues her from certain death. Though unsettled to discover that the dragon is in fact a were-dragon named Peter Farewell, Sofie sensibly decides that she is better off traveling with the dragon than wandering across India alone. And so begins a fabulous adventure involving Sofie, Peter, Captain Blacklock, the dowry ruby, and a host of fascinating characters.
A plot summary does this book small justice. The author creates an amazing and intricate world in which magic exists and where at least one of the struggles between East and West revolves around its uses. In the West, only certain classes have access to magic, its forms and uses are controlled, and its existence can be used to explain much of history. For example, Hoyt's explanation for various events such as the American Revolution is quite original and fits cleverly into the book's worldview. However, the Eastern world has magic in abundance and it travels through all realms of society. This adds somewhat to the mystique and menace of India for the foreigners living there.
My one quibble is that the action dragged a bit as the book wound into its middle portion. However, this passed and, as threads of the story began to pull together, I simply could not tear myself away. Though this book is second in a trilogy, it stands well on its own. Enough backstory from the first book makes its way into this one for readers to follow the plot, and the adventure detailed here is rather self-contained.
Even so, I cannot wait to go back to read Heart of Light or to get my hands on Heart and Soul when it comes out later this fall. Though these books are straight fantasy, Soul of Fire does have several romantic plots to it and romance fans will likely enjoy them. While I would not call any of the romances here conventional, all have satisfying moments to them and I especially enjoyed seeing the main characters in the tale (Sofie and one other - to say more would be to spoil a story full of unexpected twists) grow and change over the course of the story. Though it falls just short of being a keeper for me, I would highly recommend this book to readers. Hoyt's magical Victorian world is not to be missed.
-- Lynn Spencer
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