REVIEW: Soul of Ash – H.L. Moore

Soul Of Ash - H.L. Moore - Death's Embrace

Genre: Fantasy

LGBTQ+ Category: Gay

Reviewer: Ulysses, Paranormal Romance Guild

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About The Book

‘You can run, but you will never be free.’ 

Half a year after the events of Heart Of Dust, Doran Ó Seanáin now finds himself trapped between two worlds while belonging to neither. Held in contempt by the upper class for the turmoil he caused during Archon Bryson’s reign and resented by the miners for selling out, Leonora Darkwater’s bid to purchase the mines from the crown may be his salvation. But the offer is far more complicated than it appears, and the only person Doran trusts is the same man who threw his life into chaos. 

Haunted by his past, held hostage by his debt to the Archon, and a slave to the poison that keeps him alive, atonement feels perpetually out of reach for Nathaniel Morgenstern. Too much damage has been done and too much has gone unsaid for time alone to heal the wounds between him and Doran. 

Unfortunately, time is the one thing they don’t have as their lives collide once more. There are vipers in Arajon; the mines aren’t finished with Doran, and the sand in Nathaniel’s hourglass is running out.

The Review

Well, thank you, H.L. Moore. The sequel to “Heart of Dust” fulfils all the promises of the first book, and then some. 

Set in Moore’s richly detailed fantasy world, the cavernous coal-mining city of Iole in the country of Arajon, this book follows up on the shocking story of Nathaniel Morgenstern, an apothecary with a dark past, and Doran O’Seanain, a coal miner whose teenaged daughter Grace now happens to be the ruler of the country. That was the story of the first book, and it left Nathaniel and Doran’s relationship in painful limbo. 

The idea of a fantasy universe that feels oddly familiar is a great gift when handled by a good writer. Osiris and Beryll Brackhaus have created the Virasana Empire, which merges “Star Wars” and Euro-American pop culture in fascinating ways. Moore, who sees the world from Australia (because we USA types forget there are other perspectives), offers us an equally vivid vision, made darker overall because of the story she tells. Nathaniel’s story is doubly dark, both because of his Mevyn heritage, and his subsequent recruitment by the Nameless, a global network of assassins who kill for coin and are forever bound to the drug known as Death’s Embrace. 

Moore makes conscious choices to create recognizable ethnicities on the one hand—Tsa Lien’s obvious Chinese-like origins, and the coal miner’s pale-skinned “Valley” heritage echoing the Irish. The obvious parallel between the Mevyn and Europe’s Jews is rendered clearer still by the author’s use of distinctly Jewish words, such as mezuzah and synagogue. The anti-Mevyn sentiments expressed by the oppressed miners and the dark-skinned aristocracy alike, is a counterpoint to the disdain in which the urbane elite of Iole City hold the unlettered country people of The Valley. 

In other words, all the ugliness of the world we know is right there. It is complicated by the situation set up in the first book: Grace Harrington, a mixed-race teenager and sudden widow of the nasty previous ruler, finds herself in a position to fulfil her murdered mother’s dreams for the miners of Iole. She is supported by her aristocratic grandmother Gertrude, and also by her father, the fair-skinned (and soot-stained, used by the author as a metaphor for working-class) Doran, Foreman of the Mines. But Doran finds himself beset by deadly accidents, which not only endanger the miners, but undermine Grace’s effectiveness as Archon. Add to this mix the mysterious beauty Leonora Darkwater, who seems able to charm the miners and the aristocracy in equal measure, and you have a real puzzle to unravel.

What I really loved about the way this narrative evolved was the shifting positions of the various key players, as allegiances and enmities, fidelity and friendships are tested. The pariah Nathaniel, whose darkest secret is known only to a few, among them the person dearest to him and the person who holds his life in her hands, finds reason to wonder if there might not be something better ahead. Nathaniel is surely a tragic figure, but also a deeply sympathetic figure, while at the same time a symbol of everything dark and unholy in this strange universe. It is the shop-boy Gerald’s unwavering devotion to Nathaniel that reminds us to challenge our assumptions in such a world, lit by the shifting rainbow colors of the waterfall that pours endlessly over the mouth of the vast cavern.

I was not disappointed to see that there is plenty of room for a third book in this series, with the possibility that we might travel outside of Arajon. I have no doubt it will be worth waiting for.

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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