In HeartStone, the second book of her Dolvia Saga, Stella Atrium takes the reader on another exploratory tour of the distant planet. The story resumes about fifteen Earth years after the events narrated in SufferStone. The first book told of the Dolviet struggle to throw off the tyrannical rule of the Company, a sinister Earth corporation of Han Chinese origin. In HeartStone, the Company still lurks on the periphery of the plot and apparently still has designs on the natural resources of Dolvia, but most of the violence is now presented in the form of inter-tribal warfare. Atrium does not idealize the native peoples of her literary creation. Although they appear to live in harmony with their planetary home, they are not at peace with their neighbors. There is a high level of machismo among the male Dolviets and the warrior culture of the dominant tribes seems to have retarded the cultural and political progress of the peoples of the planet as a whole. Dolviet women, in contrast, evidently place a higher value on communal cooperation and making peace with strangers.
The first section of HeartStone is narrated by Dr. Edna Edwina Greensboro, a clinic doctor on the savannah and medical researcher. She achieves a position of high esteem with the natives, who refer to her as the “Sheeks Cylom”, a term of endearment and high regard. Like the sympathetic Earth women of SufferStone, she is prone to making cultural faux pas through her ignorance of the planet, but she wins the trust and affection of the Dolviets through her dedication as a healer and defender of their rights. They believe the planet has blessed her on a spiritual level. She marries a Consortium officer of the peace-keeping force, (the Consortium being a sort of United Nations of that region of space), Mike Shaw, and their turbulent relationship provides much of the personal drama of the novel.
In her concern for “her” Dolviets, Dr. Greensboro reminds one of Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, in which the Baroness Blixen assumes a sort of maternal responsibility for “her” Kikuyu. The off-worlders of the Dolvia Saga (excluding the Company thugs and some of the Hardhands, such as the brutal Bryant Cartel) usually combine a nobility of purpose in service to those in need with a sense of cultural superiority.
The introduction of the intelligent reptiles, the gualareps, from the planet Cicero is one of the more intriguing and entertaining features of HeartStone. For those among us readers who cherish a special bond with our animals, their presence in the story is most charming and touching and the death of Ralph causes the sharpest pang of “HeartStone”, or deeply-felt empathy for the suffering of others.
The middle section of the novel is narrated by Dr. Henry Beecham, another researcher in epidemiology sent to Dolvia. His clinical observation provides us with another view of Dr. Greensboro and Mike Shaw, a view in which there is less sentimentality and overt emotion and which presents a more critical analysis of their mistakes and cultural blunders than does Dr. Greensboro’s account.
The last third of the novel is seen through the eyes of Brianna Miller, teenage daughter of Brian Miller, the Earthling ally of the Dolviet war against the Company who died heroically in the battle of the refinery. She finds herself caught between two worlds, that of her Dolviet mother, a world that regards her as “goulep” or outcast as a half-breed, and that of her father the Earthling from Montana. She is a very sensitive child/woman and provides us with powerful insights into the emotional nature of others, especially regarding the tense love affair between Dr. Greensboro and Major Shaw. She has an insatiable curiosity about Earth, her father’s world.
In SufferStone, the story seems to be set in the distant future, perhaps as distant as the 35th century, with the Dolviets being the descendents of Earth colonists who came through the wormhole so long ago that they have little ancestral memory of the Earth. But there are too many references to familiar items of the Earth culture of our time in HeartStone, such as National Geographic magazine with its yellow-framed covers, Disney World, and the “Blue Angels” for a distant future. We are led to seeing the story as taking place in a much closer future, possibly as close as the 22nd century. Then how do we explain the presence of human beings on Dolvia and Cicero with histories apparently extending far into the past? Perhaps the Dolviets are not descended from Earthlings, perhaps both Dolviets and Earthlings have common ancestors on some other world. We can hope that an answer to this puzzle is revealed in StrikeStone, the next book in this excellent series.