Diane Duane, Stealing the Elf-King's Roses (Warner Books Inc., 2002)

Diane Duane is a prolific author in several media and genres, but I am mainly familiar with her science fiction in the Star Trek universe. For her other science fiction fans, Stealing the Elf-King's Roses certainly has scientific aspects, so long as you accept that science could work differently in alternate universes. However, if you prefer fantasy, there's plenty of that. You just need to look at everything as magic. For instance, there is plenty of fairy gold around, but it's a superconductor.

For the first few pages I thought I might have wandered into Randall Garrett's Angevin Empire and expected to find Lord Darcy and Sean O Lochlainn hanging around somewhere, but I was wrong. Duane's world isn't just an alternate history of our universe, it's a tale of intertwining universes (just how many is one of the secrets revealed in the climax). Part of the fun is trying to figure out where ours fits into the mix.

The author has a refreshing outlook on spirituality. In a time when many people either dismiss any spiritual dimension of existence or hide it under stereotypical mumbo-jumbo, Duane introduces it as a natural part of the universe. Of course there are several denominations in the religious life of Alfheim. Of course the Messiah came to Tierra (though I don't dare tell you the Saviour's given name in that universe). Of course Justice is a living, conscious entity who commands service and loyalty. Of course each universe has such a thing as an "ethical constant," and it isn't set at the same point in all of them.

There are hints of this slightly unorthodox look at spirituality in her earlier works. For instance, in The Wounded Sky Kirk, Spock et al., meet the Trinity of a nascent universe. In Spock's World, Duane postulates that Vulcans have a constant conscious connection to the Divinity, and therefore no need of organized religion.

The characters are engaging. Lee Enfield is deeply devoted to the Justice she serves. She's as conflicted over her private life as the next person, she's a good shot and she's smart. Her partner Gelert Reh'Mechren would be the stereotypical wisecracking PI if he wasn't also a devoted husband and father, as well as a Ph.D. Both are forensic lanthanomancers — they See and Scent things that others do not. Among other things, this allows them to sense and recreate impressions of the past — very useful skills in forensics. As for the Elf-King of the title, well, he's many things, not all of them understandable.

Will you like Stealing the Elf-King's Roses? That depends. If you like intrigue, a mixture of science and fantasy, interesting characters and worlds that make you want to live in them (I really like the idea of a universe with a higher ethical constant than ours!), yes. If you can't stand strong females, nurturing males and an absence of explicit sex, you'd be better off with something else.

[Faith Cormier]

Visit Diane Duane online