http://www.TracingTheStars.com was provided with an ARC in exchange for an honest review - and holy moo, did it ever change my mind about paranormal science fictionDisclaimer: I don't like Werewolves, Ghosts or Vampires in my Science Fiction
. The very thought of Vampires in Space makes me cringe. I'm not even that much of a Vampires in paranormal romance fan, because let's be honest - sparkly Vampires crying about their lost humanity and the wet-blanket girl their dead heart has fallen for has flooded the market with shyte. Vampire Romance has become a laughable shade of what it once was when Vampires were monsters, which sucks (ha-ha), because I used to love the genre. Luckily, there have been some recent books that are slowly turning the Genre around.I consider Steampunk to be a branch of Science Fiction
. When my first venture into Steampunk, Prince of Hearts
(also by Margaret Foxe) included a side character who was a twist on the vampire legend, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. I was conflicted. My conflict arose because my science fiction mind was going "NO- NO- NO, No blood sucking paranormal vamps in science fiction!" But, Foxe had already endeared the character to me before it was revealed and her writing had sold me on a 5 star book. I liked
what she did with the incorporation and blurring the lines between Steampunk, Science Fiction and Paranormal. It was a genre bender - so in the end, I told my Scifi mind to shut the heck up and enjoy the ride.
Then, Foxe sent me a copy of A Dark Heart - a book that focuses on a steampunk vampire. Because of Foxe's writing style and talent, accepting the review request was a no-brainer. I think she could write a book about two werewolves hanging out on a space station with a 'Mars needs more women' trope storyline and I'd read it. (Please, don't do that to me, Mrs. Foxe. I was mostly joking) I was, however, prepared to not like A Dark Heart. I went into it with lowered expectations simply because of the vampiric slant.Well, I should have known better
. By the end of the prologue, I was sucker-punched into the story and hooked. I found myself reading page after page after page, and ended up reading the book in one day of very solid reading. Now, I'm sad because I have no more to read. Me!? Sad about not having a vamperic steampunk book to read? What has this world come to! My brain is all confused because Foxe has made me like vampires in my science fiction! I'm almost afraid to ask what she's going to do next...
I think what does it is a combination of the impeccable world building and the effortless writing style. This is only Foxe's second book. It makes me, as a writer, jealous. Envious, even. It also makes me want to tell people to go read it. When I find an indi-author who impresses me like this, I tend to gush.
That's right, folks - Foxe is SELF PUBLISHED.Are her books perfect? No. Even as a fan of Foxe, I want to be objective.
I nagged on Prince of Hearts for its use of famous people and putting steam-something in front of random objects to make them seem more steampunk. Some people may have a problem with the erotic flavor lightly laced through the book (which is much less apparent in A Dark Heart than it was in Prince of Hearts) that I think makes the book sizzle. Some people may argue that some of her steampunk tech is too paranormal, and I agree that my science fiction mind was questioning things at times in a quiet whisper. There are a few times where the introspective dragged a little bit, but many readers will probably love this (I'm an admitted dialogue reader/introspective skimmer - Yes, we have a support group, and yes we have badges).
Foxe, however, offers me things I cannot ignore that require
I give this book five stars. First the style. The style is richly developed
and flawlessly seams together great dialogue, detailed (but not heavily so) observations, interesting asides and excellent pacing. Next is plot - yes, it's a romance, but it's a romance wrapped around a well-developed plot of intrigue, mystery, politics, murder and even a touch of the occult
. I think that any reader could enjoy this book, from those who desire romance to those who could care less about that side of the story.
The characters are such a strong part of Foxe's five-star writing. She writes three dimensional characters that jump off the page, including the side characters. I don't think there was a single flat or bland character to be found. Even the 'villains' are atypical and have reasons behind the madness. Foxe has a knack for twisting things, too. Just when you think you have a character figured out, you're proven wrong
The main protag in A Dark Heart is Elijah - Inspector for the Scotland Yard who was nearly killed and then 'saved' - though the side effect was the development of a thirst for blood. Elijah is good man trapped within a monster's body
. He kills people to survive, but this was a circumstance he was thrust into unwillingly. He both welcomes death and yet wants to live. He tries to fight his cravings with morphine but has no doubt that he could, and most likely will, snap at any moment and would be quite capable of killing men, women and children indiscriminately.
Christiana is also a dynamic, complex character. Foxe has a knack for writing female characters that are strong without losing their femininity or their vulnerabilities.
Christiana was bonded by one of the immortal Elders (no, these aren't vampires) at just seventeen. This locked her in time, and thirty years later, she is just now starting to grow up and grow a backbone after being sheltered from the world. It's an interesting point for the reader to be brought into Christiana's character. It was a bit of 'coming of age' meets 'I'm done being a wet blanket', and it resulted in creating a character I very much enjoyed reading.The relationship between Christiana and Elijah is just as complex as the two individual characters.
She is the one who saved him, unaware of what her actions would turn Elijah into. Their past goes back further than their current relationship, mixed with lies, denial, love and heartbreak. He refuses to forgive her but needs her to survive. She refuses to continue letting guilt eat her alive or let his anger rule her heart. It's quite tragic.
Both the plot (a stolen blueprint for a device that could destroy London) and the character relationships drive the story forward. There were a few times where there were so many new characters introduced, however, with their on little side stories and back stories that it did muddle and slow down the plot and pacing a bit. Some of these introductions were set ups for future books, and some of the new characters were necessary for the blueprint plot. It could also be that I found it confusing because I refused to put the book down and give my brain a break.
Final thoughts: Great story, tragic romance, excellent characters, excellent world building, excellent story-telling and writing style. A highly recommended read.