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British gentleman and were-dragon Peter Farewell has embarked on a daunting task: to recover the Soul of Fire, a magical ruby said to lie at the heart of British-controlled India. But finding one stone in the heart of a land simmering on the cusp of rebellion, and ...
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British gentleman and were-dragon Peter Farewell has embarked on a daunting task: to recover the Soul of Fire, a magical ruby said to lie at the heart of British-controlled India. But finding one stone in the heart of a land simmering on the cusp of rebellion, and rife with hostile magics, seems an impossible task—until Peter saves the life of a young virgin fleeing a distasteful arranged marriage. For unknown to Sofie Warington, the flawed gem that is all that is left of her dowry is the very one Peter has been seeking. And if Peter can keep her safe from the sinister factions desperate to gain control of both Sofie and her dowry, he will find more than a jewel; he will find his heart’s destiny.
"Mama, don't make me marry him," Miss Sofie Warington said.
Seventeen years old, clad in a white dressing gown and clutching a blue muslin dress to her ample bosom—with her hair quite untamed and her expression wild—Miss Warington should not have looked ravishing. But the way her dark hair fell in tumultuous waves to the bottom of her spine, the way tears trembled at the end of the long eyelashes surrounding her dark blue eyes, the way her lips opened to let through her impetuous words would have brought strong men to their knees.
They had less effect on her mother, Lavinia Warington. "Don't be foolish, girl," she said, her voice severe. "What are you doing out of your room? And why are you not dressed?" As she spoke, she skillfully shepherded her daughter up the spacious stairs, carpeted in expensive red velvet that showed wear in discolored, threadbare patches.
Sofie resisted, but it was useless. She felt out of step and like a stranger in this house. She'd been born into it seventeen years ago, and she'd spent her first ten years in its vast, resounding, sun-washed rooms, attended by a native ayah and adored and indulged by her parents' various servants. But at ten, she'd been put aboard a carpetship to London, where for seven years she'd been a pupil in Lady Lodkin's Academy for Young Lady Magic Users.
The summons to return home two weeks ago had overjoyed her. London had never felt like home to her. Too dark, too dank, and people were too ready to sneer at her honey-colored skin—the result of one of her ancestresses' being the Indian mistress of an English officer. She'd felt like a wayfarer in London. And yet, now home proved no home at all.
She'd found her mother and father to be far from the mythical, godlike figures who had watched over her childhood with pride and care. Her mother had grown bitter and her father . . . Her father didn't bear thinking about. She knew nothing of magical maladies, but she knew enough to guess when someone had been using dark magic, and using it far too extensively. And she knew it was an illness that could hardly be cured.
And then there was the reason they'd summoned her back home a year before her education was completed. It wasn't a longing for her company, as she'd hoped. And it wasn't even that they'd missed her. "Lalita told me that the man visiting tonight is a rich native raj from a distant kingdom," she accused her mother. "That he offered for me several months ago, and you . . . you accepted! Before I even returned."
"And how would she know this, since she has been in London as your attendant till just two weeks ago?"
"She says the kitchen servants talked about it. They said that's why you sent for me."
Sofie's mother's lips closed tightly, until they seemed to be but a single red line. "Lalita talks too much."
Sofie turned around fully, still clutching her dress, anxious fingers digging deeply into the folds of the material. "But is it true, Mama? Did she tell me the truth? How can you agree to give me away to a man I haven't even met? A man who . . ." Oh, if it was true, she had to run—somewhere, somehow—and find or make her own fortune.
"Child, you're being foolish. We are not giving you away to anyone. We found you a most advantageous marriage, one that most women in your position would give their eyeteeth for. The Raj Ajith is a powerful man, the ruler of a vast kingdom as native domains go, and he's agreed to make you his only wife. You will live covered in jewels and surrounded by servants. Trust me, Sofie, your lot could be worse."
As she spoke, Madame Warington propelled her daughter up the steep staircase, till, at the top landing, she could put her arm around the girl's small shoulders and shepherd her gently through the open doorway of her room.
The room, if not her parents, exactly matched Sofie's memories of childhood. It was, by far, vaster than anything she'd seen in England—almost as large as the dormitory that at the academy she'd shared with twenty other girls. The walls were whitewashed, since to wallpaper walls in India's hot and humid climate was quite futile. Even magically applied wallpaper started mildewing from the moisture within days of being put up, and peeled altogether from the humidity and heat within months. But the whitewash was fresh, and if the occasional lizard wandered in through the open balcony door and climbed the wall, it looked like a planned ornament.
The bed was piled high with lace and silk pillows, and covered in an intricate, colorful bedspread. The tightly woven lace netting draped over it lent it an air of romance. At least, it would if you didn't know how necessary it was to keep out the noxious flying insects that flourished in this climate. And all the silk and lace might give the impression of riches, if one didn't know how cheap they were. Why, even the servants wore silken saris and gaudy gold jewels on ears and nostrils.
Still clutching her dress, Sofie allowed herself to be pushed all the way to the vanity in the far corner. The mirror—showing dark spots in its silver backing—gave her back her own image, with high color on both cheeks and moisture in her eyes, and she wondered how her mother could distress her so and not care.
Meanwhile, her mother had removed the dress from Sofie's clutching fingers and clucked at the wrinkles marring the fine blue fabric. "Why, you absurd creature. You nearly ruined this. Lalita!"
Sofie's maid and the constant companion of her adolescence emerged from the balcony, where doubtless she'd run at their approach, trying to evade Mrs. Warington's wrath. But Mrs. Warington was more preoccupied with her daughter's attire right now than with punishing her garrulous maid.
Lalita, whose name meant playful and who looked it, wore a bright sky-blue sari, and large, golden hoop earrings through her ears. Her hair was caught into a heavy braid at her back. Not for the first time, Sofie found herself envying her maid's vitality, her beauty and, most of all, her unrepentant certainty about who she was. Not for Lalita to wonder if she was Indian or English, and which one she might be more. Lalita, born and raised in Calcutta—the daughter of people born and raised there for generations uncountable—might have gone to London with Sofie for seven long years, but she had never had any reason to consider herself anything but Indian.
She walked into the room with an expression of repentance that was no more believable than an expression of humility upon a cat's face. Bobbing a hasty curtsey, she took the dress and fairly ran with it out the door, presumably to do whatever it was one did to a dress to remove wrinkles.
Sofie, who didn't know nor care what that might be, allowed her mother to fuss over her hair. "I can't believe you'd go out there like this, Sofie," Mrs. Warington said. "What if anyone had seen you?"
"Lalita said he was with Papa in the veranda off the parlor, and she said he is quite gross. And, Mama, she was right." She shuddered at the memory of the enormous native grandee, his shapeless form covered in bright silks that would have done better service as sofa- or bed-coverings. But it was not his repulsive physique that had disgusted her. No. What made her tremble and swallow hard in fear were his features.
A native he might be, but Sofie, raised by natives, didn't consider that a problem. However, she'd never seen anyone who looked like him. His face was broad and oddly arranged, with a very low nose and cruel lips. Between the scars crisscrossing his features, and the intricate tattoos marking his forehead and cheeks, he looked . . . not quite human.
And then there were his eyes, slitlike and quite yellow. The pupils were yellow-gold, but the sclera, too, had a yellowish tint, like aged porcelain or the teeth of a heavy smoker. Sofie shuddered at the memory.
"Hush, girl," Mrs. Warington said, pulling hard on the heavy tresses she was plating into braids on either side of her daughter's face. "Don't make this into a melodrama. No one is going to force you to marry anyone you don't wish to. All I ask is that you look at Raj Ajith and think whether you could not stand to marry him."
"I've looked at him," Sofie said, as she remembered the man's smile, and the large sharp fanglike teeth that protruded from his thin lips. "There is nothing that could prevail upon me to consider marriage to—"
With a clatter Mrs. Warington set Sofie's silver-handled brush upon the polished mahogany dressing table. "Sofie, listen. You are old enough to know the truth. And the truth is that the chances of us finding you a respectable marriage with an Englishman in either England or India are next to none."
"I know you're going to say this is because I have Indian blood, but . . . Mother! Plenty of girls with more Indian blood than I have married exceedingly well. And besides—"
"Yes, doubtless," Mrs. Warington said. "Your father's grandmother married very well, but she brought with her an immense dowry accumulated by her nabob father. Enough so no one could say anything about her blood, or about the fact her parents never married and her mother was nothing but her father's native bibi. Yes, Sofie, money covers a multitude of sins, but that's where we fail, for we have none."
"No money?" Sofie asked, somewhat shocked.
A shadow crossed her mother's features. For a moment, the greenish eyes meeting hers in the mirror looked away.
"But you sent me to England!" Sofie protested. After all, only a small minority of girls were sent to England for their education, and certainly not those born to the very impecunious. Officers' brats, as a rule, stayed in India. As did almost any girl with any Indian blood. "And Papa inherited his mother's money, and—"
"We spent all our money sending you to England," her mother said, looking down, seemingly wholly absorbed in arranging Sofie's hair. Sofie wished she would look up and meet Sofie's eyes. Then she might judge the truth of her mother's words. Unnatural or not, she didn't feel as though she could trust her. "There is none left for your dowry. But surely you must understand what you owe your father and me. We ruined ourselves for your education. The least you can do is consider the marriage we arranged for you."
Sofie was stunned into silence by this consideration—a silence that subsisted till she was mostly dressed and her mother left to allow Lalita to drape a shawl artistically around her. Oh, she knew her family was not wealthy. But they had sent her to England and she thought there would be at least enough money for a modest dowry.
As soon as the door closed behind Mrs. Warington, Lalita looked at her mistress and said, with remarkable understatement, "You don't like him?"
"Like him? How could I? Lalita, he's the most despicable—" She didn't notice her own voice rising until Lalita put her finger to her lips.
"The other servants say he's not . . . not what he seems," Lalita said, in an urgent murmur. "His kingdom is very distant, but there are rumors . . ." She made a gesture, midair, as of someone averting a curse. "They call it the Kingdom of the Tigers, and it is said all English who go there disappear."
"But . . . what could he want with me?" Sofie asked, bewildered. It all came down to that one question. Granted, this man was a local ruler of some distant domain. But why would he want her? What could he possibly see in an English miss raised in Britain that would justify a promise to make her his only wife? "I don't think he's ever even glimpsed me."
Lalita looked grave, an expression ill-suited to her normally smiling countenance. "He told your father he saw your face and heard your name in a seeing. That you were the only one for him."
"He told my father . . ." Sofie repeated, as she absentmindedly arranged the folds of the shawl. "But you don't think it's true?"
"I . . . don't know. I think . . . I mean, I know he was very interested in your dowry."
"My dowry?" Sofie asked, shocked. "I have a dowry? But my mother said—"
"The ruby," Lalita said.
Sofie stared, astonished. "The ruby?" It wasn't that she didn't know what Lalita was talking about. She knew well enough. The jewel was all that remained of her father's half-breed grandmother's dowry. The money had been spent, and the other jewels sold for more money and also used up. All except the ruby.
The only reason it had been preserved was that though it was deep bloodred and of exceptional size, it was also flawed. A dark crack at its center marred not only its aesthetics but its magical properties as well. You could feel power flowing off the jewel, but it was erratic—now starting, now stopping, as unpredictable as the lightning that crossed the sky during monsoon season. And as likely to be harnessed for anything useful. Why, then, would the raj want that? Surely he was neither crazy nor stupid.
It had to be an excuse, and the excuse had to mean that he wanted her. But why?
"I don't understand it either, miss," Lalita said, and shrugged. "Only, all the talk in the servants' hall is that he insisted on the ruby for your dowry."
Sofie shook her head. From the middle of her room, she could see her reflection in the mirror without turning her head fully. Half-glimpsed out of the corner of her eye, she looked to herself like a comely woman, and shapely enough. Shapely enough to command love where her dowry could not demand respect.
She didn't think much of her dark locks, or the fact that her skin always had a slight honey tinge to it. But she had to admit she looked well enough.
Desperately, she thought of her days in London, and the carefully chaperoned balls she'd attended. There had been several men who had tried to fix their favor with her—though she supposed that her mother would say they did it in the belief her father had made his fortune in India. Perhaps they did. Sofie had always been a little suspicious of those men who declared they'd fallen in love with her after one look, or that one glance from her was enough to sustain them for days. She was doubtful of the ones who sent her roses and flowers and danced attendance to her night and day, with no encouragement and very little sustenance.
Posted December 9, 2008
Her parents make Sofie Warington return from England to her home in India where she is to marry Raj Ajith of the Tiger Realm he¿ll accept as her dowry a flawed ruby. British noble Peter Farewell is banished from his country when his father realized that he is a were-dragon shape-shifters are killed in England because Queen Victoria believes they are abominations.------------- Peter seeks the Soul of Fire ruby, the stone used by Charlemagne to bind all magic in Europe to him and his descendants. Nigel has its twin the Heart of Light Peter plans to give the ruby to Nigel once he finds it. Nigel will then take it back to its rightful place in Africa. He knows the cost of failure is the world will continue to split apart until it destroys itself. ------------------ While flying, Peter sees Sofie falling from her balcony as she escapes from her parents and her fiance who demand she marry now. When Peter reveals his identity to her, she feels safe with him although the Tigers pursue them to capture her and the ruby which is with her servant they want the stone, the woman, and the magic bound to India in order to toss the British out whereas Peter believes if the Tigers succeed, the world will end.----------- SOUL OF FIRE, the companion piece to THE HEART OF LIGHT is a wonderful urban fantasy on an alternate earth where magic works and shapeshifters exist. In India shapeshifters are accepted while in England they are hunted. Thus Peter is tormented as his native land wants him dead and a nation that would accept his duality would let him live if he gave up his beloved and the ruby. Fans will appreciate his dilemma as exile is not what he covets until he meets his Sofie, who gives him the personal reason to complete his quest.----------- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 11, 2011
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Posted June 17, 2010
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