REVIEW: Heart of Dust – H.L. Moore

Heart of Dust - H.L. Moore - Death's Embrace

Genre: Fantasy

LGBTQ+ Category: MM Gay

Reviewer: Ulysses, Paranormal Romance Guild

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About The Book

‘Doran had a problem, and it wasn’t that he’d been stabbed.’

Iole City is in turmoil. Doran Ó Seanáin, leader of the Black Lung Gang, is determined to bring the Archon, Arajon’s tyrannical ruler, down for his brutal treatment of the miners. But Doran has more to deal with than getting stabbed and a city-wide lockdown that’s seeing his gang of ex-miners being slowly starved out of their base. His daughter Grace has turned against him, and the weight of his wife’s death haunts them both.

Things start to look up when he’s inexplicably drawn to Nathaniel Morgenstern, the apotheker with a mysterious past he owes his life to, but Doran is in way over his head. The fate of the mines hangs in the balance; the clock is ticking and the Archon is closing in.

Doran’s plan to break the cycle may very well be his last.

The Review

In the bustling city of Iole, built within a vast cave, the rich enjoy the rainbow colors of the sun’s light filtered through the prism of a great sacred waterfall; while the poor—who toil in the coal mines deep below the cavern’s floor—know only shadow and soot. Doran, leader of the Black Lung Gang, fights for the rights of his community against the arrogant greed of the city’s hereditary ruler, the Archon Bryson. 

The mines have taken everything from Doran, and when his struggle against the Archon’s tyranny stumbles, he discovers an out-of-the-way apothecary’s shop, whose mysterious proprietor Nathaniel seems to offer him comfort he hasn’t known since his wife’s death.

This was good enough that, when I saw at the end there was a sequel, I bought it right away. H.L. Moore has created a dark, claustrophobic world that is both fantastical and oddly familiar in its Dickensian dystopia. Aside from calling to mind Dickens’s descriptions of the hellish landscape of England’s coal districts, I kept thinking about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, with its crazy geography and references to a more familiar world. However, this story is darker and without any sense of satire. 

I was also 20 percent into this book when I started to say to myself, “uh oh, where’s the gay character?” You see, that’s my raison d’être here, I review m/m, gay romance, gay mystery, etc. My alarm abated somewhat when Doran meets Nathaniel and we are told how drawn the widower is to the apothecary. However, that’s it. There is no introspection no surprise: only lots of remembered grief over the death of Rhian and its destructive effect on Doran’s life. This is the stingiest “romance” I have ever encountered in all my years of reading m/m fiction. It is the merest scrap of promised something, hidden from everyone’s eyes but Doran’s (and the reader’s).

What kept me reading was the quality of the writing and the compelling pace and detail of the narrative. Not quite Steampunk and not historical, Moore’s plot and characters seem out of time and place, yet vivid and intense. The author sets the stage extremely well, creating a cinematic sense of what Iole looks like and what it’s like to live there. Her characters—not just Doran, but the entire ensemble—pop off the page and suck the reader into the atmosphere of the place, from the smog-shrouded slums known ironically as the Diamond District, to the lavish mansions of the Bronze District. Light and dark form an ever-present contrast in Iole, and also serve as a metaphor for the contrast between the lives of the rich and poor. 

Interestingly, Moore makes a point of noting that the aristocracy of Iole are all dark-skinned, while the slumdwellers of the mines are light-skinned, their pallor always marked with soot and coal dust. The poor all have Celtic sounding names, a clear reference to the Irish and Welsh coal miners of Great Britain’s industrial age, while other characters speak to an Asian-like empire called Xiang, a Teutonic country known as the Helvetic Republic, and a persecuted minority readily recognizable as akin to our world’s Jews. 

This is a book rocked with moral greyness, right up to the shocking twist that tilts the story on its head. The story’s denouement is well-constructed and satisfying, but not entirely so. The supposed romance promised in the author’s presentation of the publication is not delivered, so it was the possibility of such a romance forced me to buy the second book. We’ll see what happens.

Four stars.

The Reviewer

Ulysses Grant Dietz grew up in Syracuse, New York, where his Leave It to Beaver life was enlivened by his fascination with vampires, from Bela Lugosi to Barnabas Collins. He studied French at Yale, and was trained to be a museum curator at the University of Delaware. A curator since 1980, Ulysses has never stopped writing fiction for the sheer pleasure of it. He created the character of Desmond Beckwith in 1988 as his personal response to Anne Rice’s landmark novels. Alyson Books released his first novel, Desmond, in 1998. Vampire in Suburbia, the sequel to Desmond, is his second novel.

Ulysses lives in suburban New Jersey with his husband of over 41 years and their two almost-grown children.

By the way, the name Ulysses was not his parents’ idea of a joke: he is a great-great grandson of Ulysses S. Grant, and his mother was the President’s last living great-grandchild. Every year on April 27 he gives a speech at Grant’s Tomb in New York City. 

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1 thought on “REVIEW: Heart of Dust – H.L. Moore”

  1. Hi Ulysses, normally I keep a “no response” policy to reviews, but I wanted to reach out and say thank you so much for this wonderful review. I’m so thrilled you enjoyed the book, even if it wasn’t quite what you were expecting! I do, hand to my heart, promise a lot more gay and heat in book 3, which I’m writing now… and I also promise that the wait and build will be worth it!

    Reply

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