Absolute Heart (Infernal Instruments of the Dragon #1)

Title: Absolute Heart (Infernal Instruments of the Dragon #1)
Author: Michael Vance Gurley
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Release Date: July 23, 2019
Genre(s): YA, Fantasy
Page Count: 288
Reviewed by: ParisDude
Heat Level: 1 flames out of 5
Rating: 4 stars out of 5


Infernal Instruments of the Dragon

As the British Empire builds power based on new clockwork and steam technology, Ireland draws its might from its potent magical traditions. Only two boys with little in common can end the fighting between the two nations and prevent a terrible worldwide war.

Gavin Haveland’s dreams are in the sky with the airships, while his reality as a High Councilman’s son means hiding secrets that will get him executed if revealed.

Orion of Oberon is not just a powerful mage, he’s the nephew of the Irish queen, and the one she’s sent him on a quest for the ancient Dragon Stones that will bolster her fading power. In the process, he might restore his family to their rightful place in society.

With enemies determined to stop them by any means necessary and war or peace hinging on their success, Gavin and Orion must find a way to work together, despite the centuries of mistrust between their nations.

One can hardly imagine two neighbouring countries more different than Britain and Eire, off and on at war with each other. In the former, steam-powered engines and ingenious contraptions rule; magic, on the other hand, is completely forbidden. At its head sits an all-controlling council. Unbeknownst to most of the councilmen, however, a small coterie in its midst has stumbled upon a mighty magical weapon that it wields in secret, allegedly for the sole nation’s benefit and to better crush its arch-enemy, Eire. The latter, lying behind a magical barrier, rejects modern technology and embraces magic. Officially, it’s a kingdom, but their queen is old and sick. So, the secretive members of the Brotherhood of the Mage and the master warlock Blaylock govern its destiny in her stead. And they have a hidden agenda that might be quite different from what the old queen would want for her country.

Sixteen-year-old Gavin is the only son of Britain’s head councilman Jacobson Haveland. He’s supposed to follow his father’s political career, even though he would love to become a pilot more than anything. He’s hard put to satisfy his father’s high standards, anyway, all the more so as he has got a shameful secret: he fancies his classmate Lucas Johnson, a tall, clumsy, but beautiful boy with a penchant for solving the most difficult riddles and puzzles. Gavin’s best friend is Landa (short for Lilandra) Boxley Townsend, a girl who doesn’t match society’s expectations, either. Instead of learning to turn into the perfect young lady, she’s only interested in clockwork mechanisms, steam-machines, and technical details. She suspects her bestie’s feelings for Lucas to be more than friendship, but the less said the better. Especially since there’s that brute, Will, who seems to have only one idea: how best to humiliate and annoy them both. Meanwhile, in Eire, the young warlock Orion prepares to cross the Irish Sea in order to retrieve a magical stone with which he hopes to heal his great-aunt, the poor, old queen.

In terms of world-building, I have to say that Michael Vance Gurley does a pretty good and convincing job. The pseudo-Victorian British and Irish Empires he invents look almost familiar to someone interested in 19th-century period fiction, but only to a point. Magic is so widespread and common in Eire that someone who fails to wield it becomes everybody’s laughing stock. Unheard-of and never imagined steam-machines, on the other hand, transform London and the rest of Britain into something very different from the places we know from said period-fiction. It’s that witty, clever mixing-up of the familiar and the invented that lends this book quite a lot of charm. Add the two young main characters Gavin and Orion, different yet with similar backgrounds and issues, add the other characters that will form the group of young heroes—Landa, the technical-minded girl, Lucas, the soft-spoken, clumsy beau, and Will, initially a hateful, homophobic bully, but basically a good guy, too—and you get all the ingredients for a great novel.

But, alas, the writing is rather awkward and clumsy in places. You follow a well-crafted chapter with bated breath, only to get annoyed because the author has forgotten a little detail and gets mixed up in his plot (for instance, he writes about a character leaving the premises, and two paragraphs later makes that character chime in in an ongoing conversation), confusing you in the process. Sometimes, there are things spelled out or repeated that could have done without the spelling-out or repetition. All in all, the first third comes across as a bit lengthy and verbose, things get better afterwards. But the romantic side-plot—not the book’s main focus, mind you—together with its twists, turns, and evolutions is very sweet and often to-the-point. Not much sex, very understandably, as this is supposed to be a YA-book, and we can’t have dudes shagging morning, noon, and evening in one of those, now, can we? I did tsk-tsk from time to time while reading, I have to admit, but was swept up and away at the end, so that upon closing the book, I had a very satisfied smile on my face. Apparently, this is the first book of a series, and I guess I’ll give Mr. Gurley another chance next time, if only because I want to know how things turn out in the next installment.

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Galley copy of Absolute Heart provided by the publisher in exchange of an honest review.


Dieter, born and raised in Austria, studied Political Sciences in Vienna in the early 90s. He's living in Paris, France, with his boyfriend and working as a graphic designer. In his spare time, he loves to write, read, cook, take photos, and travel as often as possible. He’s already published two short-story collections as well as four poetry collections. His first murder mystery novel “The Stuffed Coffin” featuring Damien Drechsler and the dashing Greek student Nikos has been released on Jan. 6, 2019, and is available in English, French, and German. By the way, the French version "Le cercueil farci" has won the prestigious Prix du roman gay 2019 in the category murder mystery. Dieter runs a gay book reviews site in French and is also writing reviews for Gay Book Reviews under the pseudonym of ParisDude.