Ace Books, 359 pp., $14.95 (paper)
Contrary to the cliché, you can judge Sharon Shinn's Heart of Gold by its cover. On it, a woman with oddly geometric hair wears a very romantic gown/wedding dress while she leans against a fireplace mantle that is held up with two phallic pillars. The semiotics are simply dazzling. The cover, oversized paperback size, and the paper quality would lead you to believe that this is a romance novel that was mis-shelved in the science fiction/fantasy section. But then you take another look at the heroine's hairdo and the publisher's imprint and realize that this might be a hybrid of the two genres. Twenty pages in, you're convinced of it. Problem is, Heart doesn't do either genre any justice. The romance doesn't kick in until two-thirds of the way through the story, almost as if Shinn realized that she (or he) needed some hook to make the book sell a few more copies. And the SF/F elements lack grounding; Shinn has created a world in which three different races -- one blue, one gold, and one albino -- are simplistically rendered and never explained. You know her point (that prejudice is bad) after reading the blurb on the back of the book. Questions that her world raises (first and foremost being "Why are these people blue, for goodness sake?") are too numerous to mention. Shinn does her workmanlike best with the thin threads she has but, ultimately, the 350-plus pages appeal to both genres but work in neither.
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