Heart of GoldHeart of Gold – Michael Pryor

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Cover blurb
At a loss after finishing their end-of-year exams, Aubrey and George travel to the Gallian capital, Lutetia, where it so happens that the lovely Caroline is studying natural history.

Aubrey wants to follow up a lead on curing his condition – though his family have other ideas, and he’s soon burdened with a royal mystery to solve, old letters to procure, a missing ornithologist to locate and a spot of diplomatic espionage. These tasks should keep Aubrey occupied -but that would be underestimating Aubrey’s sense of curiosity and uncanny knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Someone is stealing people’s souls and turning them into mindless monsters, and the country’s magical lifeline, the Heart of Gold, has been stolen, leaving the city in chaos. Aubrey, George, and a somewhat reluctant Caroline are on the case …

Michael Pryor says
At the end of Blaze of Glory , I knew that Aubrey and co. had more adventures ahead. In the world of magic, intrigue and spying that I’d set up, how could they not?

If Albion was a hotbed of espionage and plots, then the Continent was bound to be even more interesting. Especially Lutetia, sandwiched as it is between Holmland and Albion. I wanted to see what would happen to Aubrey if he landed there, burdened as he is with his ‘condition’ and his desire to prove himself – most of all to his father.

As I immersed myself in spies, schemes and subterfuge, I found that while I thought I was writing an adventure, I was actually writing a romance. It became more and more interesting to me how Aubrey was going to manage such a thing, especially since he seemed uncharacteristically unconfident in this area. In some ways, this vulnerability was even more exposing than his near-death state, and it became more fascinating as I wrote.

So it seems as if I’ve actually been writing a fantasy-adventure-comedy-romance, without realising it …

Heart of Glory begins
Aubrey Fitzwilliam knew that crisis was another word for opportunity. He simply wished that he saw more of the latter and less of the former.

Aubrey grimaced, tightened the last valve assembly and closed the ornithopter’s cowling. He stretched, wincing, just as his friend George Doyle spoke up. ‘Aubrey?’

‘What’s bright orange and floats through clouds?’
‘Riddling, George? Really, you need to find something more worthwhile to do.’
‘It’s not a riddle, old man. It’s what I’m looking at right now.’

With mechanical knowledge an important part of the ornithopter pilot’s exam, Aubrey had worked hard on familiarising himself with every aspect of the complicated machine – while George spent much of the evening lounging on a bench, propped on one elbow and reading a newspaper. Now, he was peering out of the window of the workshop at the night sky. Aubrey wiped his greasy hands on a rag and strolled to see what had caught his friend’s attention. ‘Where?’

A pearly-grey blanket of cloud hung over Finley Moor Airfield and stretched to the south, where it reflected the many lights of Trinovant, the heart of the Albion Empire. Thunder growled nearby.

‘There. That glow.’ George pointed to the north-east, past the control tower – dark at this time of night – and the dirigible mooring masts. Four long, grey cigar shapes bobbed at rest. They were the pride of the Albion airship fleet, the eight-hundred-foot-long Imperial class, the most advanced lighter-than-air craft in the world.

The orange light was coming from something in the clouds – something large. Aubrey frowned, trying to make out what it was, then it burst through and he froze, all flippancy drying up instantly. A flaming dirigible staggered across the sky, its nose angling downward as it lost lift, sagging in the middle. Fire had enveloped the front third of the sleek airship, puncturing the internal gasbags. Flames lit up the airfield in a ghastly hell-light.