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A Red Heart of Memories
Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Ace Books, 329 pages

Tim Barrall
A Red Heart of Memories
Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Nina Kiriki Hoffman's other work -- either on her own or with other authors -- includes Body Switchers from Outer Space (R.L. Stine's Ghosts of Fear Street, No 14), Child of an Ancient City, Echoes (Star Trek Voyager, No 15), I Was a Sixth-Grade Zombie (Ghosts of Fear Street, No 30), The Silent Strength of Stones, Why I'm Not Afraid of Ghosts (R.L. Stine's Ghosts of Fear Street, No 23), Body Switchers from Outer Space (Ghosts of Fear Street, No 14), Why I'm Not Afraid of Ghosts (Ghosts of Fear Street, No 23) and The Thread That Binds the Bones.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Past the Size of Dreaming
SF Site Review: A Red Heart of Memories

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

Matt Black, a homeless woman, is sitting on a park bench eating discarded sandwiches when a man steps out of a nearby ivy-covered wall. "The leaves wove together into green skin, the skin smoothed and formed a man, and then a man all green stepped away from the wall, shaking his head slowly."

The man is Edmund. Edmund wanders the world, going where the spirit moves him, and the spirit has told him to follow Matt. Thus begins a most extraordinary fantasy adventure set in the contemporary U.S.A., slightly to the left of reality.

I'm not going to say much else about the plot of A Red Heart of Memories because I don't want to spoil it or prejudice readers. Not being a big fan of fantasy or some of the book's themes (or California, for that matter), I would likely have avoided it based on a plot synopsis. However, Nina Kiriki Hoffman's terrific writing made it a novel that I'm glad to have read.

The characters in A Red Heart of Memories are well drawn and compelling, but what impressed me most was the amazing sense of wonder Nina Kikiri Hoffman brought to her magic scenes, and her whimsical humour. Hoffman uses magic to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. For example:

The rocks were singing.

Matt kneeled and placed her hand on them. Gold bared her palm --Hello?-- she thought.

''Greetings, man-thing. Thing like those that chopped us and split us and carried us and buried us, looking for seams and nuggets and ore. Greetings, thing that stripped us from our parent and brought us to a new place. Greetings, thing that left us shattered here an age ago.--

--Uh, greetings,-- Matt thought. None of these events sounded very positive, but the rocks didn't seem too angry about them. On the other hand, all the rocks had sharp edges.

My only serious criticism of A Red Heart of Memories is that the end of the book lacks impact, particularly given the emotional intensity of earlier chapters. Part of the weakness is structural. The book's viewpoint character, Matt, is pulled into a quest to solve Edmund's problem, and this in turn draws them into solving someone else's problem. These two steps distance us from Matt's needs and emotions, thus making the ultimate payoff inevitably less intense. Moreover, the climax of this magical quest begs for pyrotechnics and, unfortunately, Hoffman opts for a low key resolution. It is more realistic in human terms, certainly, but it lacks dramatic closure.

The disappointing end of A Red Heart of Memories reminded me a great deal of The Healer's War, a fantasy novel by Elizabeth Anne Scarborough, based on her experiences as a nurse in Viet Nam. Because Scarborough hadn't resolved her feelings about Viet Nam, she wasn't able to resolve her protagonist's problems either, consequently this otherwise excellent book drizzled to an uncertain stop.

Hoffman has done a better job, nonetheless she tackled an ambitious, thorny theme and it's little wonder she had difficulties. I still recommend this book strongly, and will be watching for more of Hoffman's work.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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