Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Heart of Light by Sarah A. Hoyt

This is not a review. I've only read two chapters so far.

However, for those who have been following my Worldbuilding posts, and are interested in what I call "information feed" -- you will find in HEART OF LIGHT an opening which is a perfect example of how to draw readers into a complex world full of twists, turns and surprises.

The first 27 of 502 pages of fairly small print contain no errors of form or technique and no expository lumps. The plot zips along at a good pace, and the surprises abound (if you didn't read the back cover first).

This is an alternate history universe with subtle cultural similarities and differences from our own. The intricacies of the universe far over shadow the characters at the beginning -- and yet, the author sticks right close inside the 2 main characters and gives us the world through their eyes (which are accustomed to their world).

Unfortunately, Amazon does not have a LOOK INSIDE feature for this book so you can see the first few pages without buying the $6.99 (US) book. It's from Bantam Spectra so you may find it in B&N bricks-n-mortar store to look at.

I've already read and will review another Sarah A. Hoyt title, DRAW ONE IN THE DARK, and have a stack more to go through. She seems to write Intimate Adventure against fantasy universe backdrops, and she writes in a firm, high-velocity Romance genre style, taking you through the formation of a "couple" from two individuals. This is good stuff.

There is one caveat though, for writers studying the Sarah A. Hoyt titles, please note that both DRAW ONE IN THE DARK and HEART OF LIGHT contain a classic problem.

In both these novels, Hoyt inserts scenes from other points of view where the entire scene exists only so that the reader knows that one character has informed another character of some plot development that the reader already knows about.

Hoyt does not resort to the "and she told him" ploy, but does not show the character mis-representing what happened, mis-understanding what happened, or just plain lying to twist another character's motivations. Those are reasons to narrate in detail what one character tells another about something the reader already knows about.

Occasionally, there's a bit of two characters telling each other things they already know -- and often the reader already knows all that. Sometimes, though, she uses the dialogue to deposit some exposition -- but rarely to the extent that it becomes a "Lump."

For the most part, these dialogue interludes do not constitute an Expository Lump. All they do is slow up the plot -- which is usually zipping right along.

Hoyt is really good at breaking down a complex universe and feeding it to the reader a bit at a time. Most of the dialogue scenes that should be cut pertain entirely to plot developments. If you're looking for a writer to model your far-out magic-using fantasy universe building on, investigate Hoyt's works. Amazon lists a number of her titles and I've begun posting some of them into the simegen.com bookstore


I haven't forgotten I have some requests for a discussion of why Romance and Paranormal Romance is rather disparaged by many who don't read the genre. Next week and the week after (Oct. 14 and Oct 21, 2008) I will again be away from my desk. Maybe I can get to a new topic after that.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg



  1. Hi Jacqueline,

    Thank you for the kind comments. I should perhaps explain -- about Heart Of Light -- that it was started almost nine years ago, then finished when it sold two years ago. I had a half a book, and it was a VERY difficult thing to do because my style had changed so much. I often wanted to slap my younger self, (unfortunately we're not granted time machines for that) so I'm glad it doesn't read as unevenly as I expected. Soul of Fire is probably more even. I'm right now trying to figure out what exactly to do next in the universe. There's a strong temptation to go sideways to other lands of the time -- though there is a greater temptation to go forward and see how the actions in these books affect the twentieth century.

    On the repeat dialogue: It is something I'll be sure to watch in the future. I'm aware of that feeling of 'Static' this brings to books and I'm trying to cure myself of it. In fact, I just started an overhaul of a completely unrelated and on-spec book to rid it of those "flat spots."

    Thank you again.

    For anyone interested, my website is http://sarahahoyt.com There's a blog off that. The blog associated with THIS account otoh will start next week and it's by myself and a few friends, including Laura Resnick, Dave Freer and Louise Marley.


  2. Sarah:

    Thank you for the illuminating comment. This blog is read by a number of aspiring writers, and insight into the process is just what they all need.

    Sometimes, what you need to learn from is a novel that isn't "perfect" but illustrates the effects you can inadvertently produce when you do it a certain way.

    Heart of Light is a perfect example of what I've been talking about regarding Expository Lumps and Information Feed. The opening is absolutely perfect.

    The break into more character points of view -- well, I haven't finished the book yet, but I think for my taste, just the POVs of the two lovers would work better.

    On this blog, I may wax critical of the writing craftsmanship -- I do have more to say about these novels in my regular review column where I don't pick nits but discuss the substance.


    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  3. "She seems to write Intimate Adventure against fantasy universe backdrops, and she writes in a firm, high-velocity Romance genre style, taking you through the formation of a "couple" from two individuals."

    Thanks for this. It's exactly what I want to know about a new-to-me author. Amazon has "recommended" her to me a couple of times, but I'm always cautious with authors labeled as straight fantasy. It's interesting how much good reading fodder can be gleaned from these technical posts (I'm not a writer).

    PS - Your linking to her books may explain Amazon's "recommendations."

  4. I loved HEART OF LIGHT and SOUL OF FIRE. Actually, one thing I appreciated very much about the first book was the way the author makes us intimately acquainted with the thoughts and motives of the two secondary characters who serve as, technically, antagonists. I sympathized with ALL the characters despite their conflicting goals, a difficult effect for a story to accomplish.

    And, as I've probably mentioned before, I am an avid fan of dialogue-heavy fiction, including the scenes in which characters explain things to each other -- often my favorite part of a book, if it's done well. If that kind of scene doesn't occur at the denouement of a mystery, for instance, I feel cheated. I don't WANT the plot to zip along; too fast a pace exhausts me. :)

    Here's the mini-review of HEART OF LIGHT that I included in my newsletter a few months ago:

    This alternate history fantasy is set in a Victorian world where magic largely substitutes for technology, e.g. large carpetships for air transport of passengers. Although most or all people seem to have the potential for magic use, in practice the common folk have little power. Magical gifts are concentrated among a few aristocrats. As the story unfolds, we learn that powerful gems make this dominance possible. The British royal family possesses one such jewel. The hero of this novel, Nigel Oldhall, combines his honeymoon with a secret mission to darkest Africa to find another gem, the Heart of Light, to consolidate Queen Victoria's power. He holds a deeply sincere belief that the welfare of humanity depends on the dominance of the British Empire over the "lower" races. He doesn't share the secret of his assignment with his new wife, Emily, who naturally wonders why he hasn't consummated their marriage and instead wanders off and leaves her alone in Cairo with no word of his plans. Since her entire knowledge of romantic relationships comes from novels, and Nigel doesn't act a bit like a devoted husband in a novel, she fears he has a lover in Egypt. An old schoolmate of Nigel's, Peter Farewell, shows up at about the same time agents of the Hyena Men, an African secret society, attack Nigel and Emily through occult means. Emily accidentally bonds with the artifact that is supposed to point the way to the Heart of Light. Nigel has to reveal the truth about his quest to Emily and Peter. On their expedition, they unwittingly hire as guides and porters a group led by two members of the Hyena Men, Masai woman Nassira and Kitwana, a part-Zulu man. The multiple-viewpoint structure allows the reader to get inside the minds of all the major characters and sympathize with their conflicting viewpoints and goals. In addition to the magical powers of the Hyena Men, Peter Farewell turns out to have an occult secret of his own. Reluctant admiration and attraction grow between characters who start out as antagonists. Romantic pairings reshuffle in unexpected ways. Characters who hold rigid views of people different from themselves gradually break through the boundaries of their prejudices. I recommend this novel as an unusual blend of fantasy, adventure, and romance, with a density and depth that make me look forward to the sequel, SOUL OF FIRE, due this month.

  5. Hey there.

    Your blog is a great source of information about love and romance. I would be glad if we could exchange links with my blog:

    I usually update my blog at least everyday and I try to maintain the niche of my blog.

    Please let me know if you want to exchange links. Send me an email: j.haguisan@harvestseo.com or just leave me a comment at my blog.

    More power to you!



  6. Hi JGK, thanks for reading our blog. However, I believe you've only read the title and have misinterpreted the purpose. This is a BOOK blog about writing, craft of writing, science fiction romance novels (not "how to be romantic", sorry!) and the various foibles of the publishing industry as if relates to the SF and romance genres. Those kinds of topics. We're not a dating blog and it would be a disservice to have people think they were going to find dating tips orhow to kiss better tips here.

    How to write a novel, yes, that they'd find here.

    Best of luck with your blog, ~Linnea

  7. Anonymous8:54 PM EST


    Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts on Heart of Light. I'd just like to add that, although Amazon doesn't always have a "Look Inside" feature for Sarah's novels, her website contains 3-chapter excerpts of all her novels.

    Heart of Light excerpt

    -Dan Hoyt