Book review: Heart of Gold by Sharon Shinn

Three of five stars

I read Sharon Shinn’s Samaria series many years ago (when it was still a trilogy), and thought it simply wonderful. Heart of Gold, while good, doesn’t measure up. And that’s disappointing, because there’s a lot of potential in its premise.

On an unnamed continent of an unnamed planet, three diverse races live in a state of unarmed truce. The Indigos, a blue-skinned matriarchal society, are the de facto rulers of the continent by virtue of their numbers and control of arable land. The Guldens, a gold-skinned patriarchal society, are more technologically innovative, but stifled by restricted access to land, wealth, and power. The third race, the Albinos, exist in meek servitude, primarily to the Indigos.

Nolan Adelpho, the scion of one of the High Hundred families, the Indigo elite, is a scientist in Biolab in the Central City. His family is waiting for him to get this notion of working for a living out of system and marry according to family arrangement. He is quietly rebelling: although he loves Leesa, his fiancee, he is resisting the pressure being put on him to come home, where all he will then be required to do is raise the children and take care of the house. He enjoys his work and has made several satisfactory discoveries in his field: antivirals and antibiotics.

Kitrini Candachi is the somewhat disreputable member of another High Hundred family: disreputable by virtue of her father’s youthful rebellion in leaving home and raising her among the Guldens. Much to her indomitable grandmother’s dismay, she does her reputation no good by being the mistress of Jex Zanlan, the son of the Gulden chief Chay Zanlan.

The Indigo and the Gulden have viewed each other with suspicion for generations. Long ago, the Indigo bullied the Gulden out of their native lands and pushed them toward the rocky coast. Non-aggression treaties were eventually signed, but lately the Indigo have been pushing into Gulden territory again. Terrorist attacks have taken place in retaliation, attacks laid at the feet of Jex Zanlan, now under arrest and awaiting trial in the Central City.

Shinn spends nearly half of the book introducing us to the various aspects and conflicts of Indigo and Gulden society, and then plunges us into the midst of a terrorist attack, a frantic escape from Central City, and a clandestine journey to Gulden territory in an effort to thwart a malicious plot. The slow build-up is necessary, especially due to the severe role reversal of Indigo society, where women have all the power, land, money, and prestige, and men are the virginal chattel bargained away in marriage. Even the action-packed second half progresses at a leisurely pace. For all its leisure, though, this is a fast read, easily consumed in a day or two.

All that being said, this book’s premise is one that could have easily been expanded to twice its length. Too much was left unexplored. What was the origin of the different skin tones? Did the Indigo come from some other planet or some other continent and take over the Gulden lands? If not, how did two such radically different societal structures evolve on the same continent? Was there some geologic feature which separated them that the Indigo eventually surmounted? Why did Shinn even include the Albino race since they played virtually no part in the story? What about the Guldens’ trading partners on other continents, mentioned only in passing? Were they Gulden as well? Albino? Or something else? So many questions, so little information. I guess that’s what comes from having a mind attuned to anthropology….

So. Bottom line. Enjoyable light SF/fantasy with a romantic bent, not too taxing on the brain. Could have been better, but not too shabby a way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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