The Grand Ellipse
by Paula Volsky
A book review by Mark L. Olson
Bantam Spectra, 2001, 659 pp, $6.99
The Grand Ellipse has been justly described as Jack Vance crossed with Jules Verne.
Vonahr is a modern (for the late 1800s) civilized republic which is being menaced from the north by the Grewzland Imperium. It's only chance of defense is to gain access to the Sentient Fire that a sorcerer in a neighboring country (the eccentric Low Hetz) is reputed to have developed. But Low Hetz' mad king will not even accept Vonahr's embassy to discuss it. The mad king has, however, decreed a great race, the Grand Ellipse, in which the participants will trace a huge oval across the many lands and seas of their world. And the winner will get a private audience.
The Vonahrish Foreign Office gets the idea of persuading a adventurous young woman (whose interest in travel and anthropology has scandalized her parents) to compete in hopes of being able to press Vonahr's case to Low Hetz's mad king.
People of every nation are participating, including a handsome Gewzlandish military hero, the woman's jilted fiance (she dumped him a few years previously) and a dozen other strange people. The race is on and the book tells the story of her travels across of varied and strange world, running into magic here and there (civilized people believe in magic, but don't really approve of it) and troubles everywhere. The countries are all reminiscent of one Earth country or another.
It's a great story, easily holding up over a long book. Highly recommended!
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