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Heart of Gold    by Sharon Shinn order for
Heart of Gold
by Sharon Shinn
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Shinn presents the reader with a world in which three races uneasily co-exist - the gold-skinned patriarchal gulden, blue-skinned matriarchal indigo, and the whitefolk who hold menial positions. The latter group is not very significant to this story, which is one of conflict and misunderstanding (with a strong blend of romance) between the rigid societies of the blueskins and gilder.

Indigo Nolan's life has been laid out by his female relations. He is to marry a high-caste Indigo woman, Leesa, and raise their children on a lush Higher Hundred estate in-country. He has deviated from that role only to work for a few years as a medical researcher in the city, where he has discovered cures for certain gulden diseases. Though the city has somewhat broadened his views, Nolan is still a product of his upbringing and has absorbed its prejudices. As the book opens he plans to continue with 'a life that would hold no surprises.'

Kit (Kitrini Candachi) on the other hand, is full of surprises. She's a high-caste indigo woman, raised by an anthropologist father amongst the gulden. Her passionate love for Jex, son of the gulden leader, is a scandal to her peers. Jex is a terrorist, imprisoned in the city after bombing a medical compound. Kit visits him when she can, and fundraises for a charity bank, which helps abused gulden women who have fled from their own people.

As violence escalates between the races, both these individuals struggle with their feelings. Nolan slowly becomes aware of the prejudices that surround him. His gulden boss, whom he respects, finds him naive and tells him that 'we are mostly what we have been made. It takes a cataclysmic event ... or great strength of will, to overcome our early training.' Kit comes from the other end of the spectrum, fighting a growing distaste for her lover's single-minded pursuit of his cause and willingness to commit violence. Though in sympathy with a people pushed by her own to the infertile western end of the continent, she concludes that there is 'no justification for his actions.' Surprisingly it's the mild Nolan who, shocked by a horrific discovery that strains his allegiances, takes extreme action.

Heart of Gold examines racial and gender prejudices, the actions that people (of any skin color) will take in their support, and their consequences. It is also the story of two individuals who, in their own very different ways, have the courage to do something about wrongful acts of their own societies. And it's a story of love, false and true. I found it a very enjoyable read, with a small quibble - though Nolan's character was well-drawn, Kit seemed a little too erratic at times to be true.

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