NESFA Members' Reviews

Stealing the Elf-King's Roses

by Diane Duane

Aspect, 2002, ISBN 0-446-60983-8

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

This is not an especially easy book to describe.

The cosmological background is that there are multiple alternate Earths, six of which currently have regular communication and trade with each other. A seventh has just been discovered as the story opens, and is subsequently revealed to be our own. One of these worlds, Alfheim, is the source of the gating technology that makes intercontinuum travel and trade possible, and of the fairy gold that makes gating technology practical and affordable. The setting of this story, or at least part of it, is an alternate Los Angeles, mostly referred to as Ellay. The legal system in Ellay is in some respects similar to that existing in the UK in our world, and in some respects, really different. In our UK, the magistrate, prosecuting and defending attorneys, and the jury do not invoke the actual personification of Justice, who determines actual guilt and imposes a suitable sentence, such as turning a nasty little weasel of a con artist into a human-sized weasel. Nor are the prosecuting and the defending attorneys all psychoforensicists, able to know whether suspects and witness a re telling the truth, or replay the events at the scene of a murder from the victim's viewpoint.

You might think that these abilities would make solving a crime child's play. It's not. You still have to have enough evidence to convince the jury and Justice that the accused is guilty, and this is harder to do if the events as you discover them involve impossible things happening, such as people appearing and disappearing into thin air without benefit of a worldgate.

This story is, or starts off as, a murder mystery. The murder takes place in the alternate world called Earth, in the city of Ellay, and the victim is an elf, or what is called an elf. Omren dil'Sorden is one of the Alfen, a native of the alternate Earth called Alfheim. At the time of his murder, dil'Sorden was a very successful and valuable employee in the R&D division of ExTel, a telecom multinational.

In the case of dil'Sorden's murder, our investigators and intended prosecuting attorneys are Lee Enfield and her partner Gelart. Gelart is a fayhound, and looks rather like a white, frizzy-haired wolfhound--Irish or Russian isn't specified, but the size sounds like an Irish wolfhound. It's mentioned a couple of times that the fayhounds were originally native to Alfheim, as are the Alfen, but it's implied that there are no longer any fayhounds in Alfheim. Why this should be is not further explicated here, and this looks deliberate rather than careless--one of several things suggesting that this may be intended as the first of a series.

As implied above, Lee and Gelart's psychoforensic examination of the scene of dil'Sorden's murder turns up the apparent appearance and then disapearance of a person, an elf, who watches the murder, appears to be satisfied with the result, and then steps through something that isn't there, and is not seen again.

Dil'Sorden's employer, ExTel, is applying a startling amount of pressure to get this murder "cleaned up" quickly--with odd hints that this doesn't necessarily mean "solved" in any greater sense than getting the immediate gunman. Then, in rapid succession, there's anattempt on Lee's life, she gets wind of a Five-Geneva report that reveals a surprisingly high, and increasing, rate of murder of Alfen living and working in worlds other than Alfheim, and she gets an anonymous, probably Alfen, call, suggesting that she should be looking for an opportunity to "leave town", and also to acquire--illegally, because it couldn't be done any other way--one of the Elf-King's roses, as this could have interesting and useful effects on technology currently causing her a lot of trouble.

The Elf-King's roses are, as far as she can determine, entirely mythical.

The Five-Geneva report is released, the fecal matter hits the air-recirculating device, and Ellay's politically ambitious DA gets Lee and Gelart appointed to the UN&ME (United Nations and Multinational Entities) commission that's being sent to Alfheim to investigate the strange Alfen murder rate and the evidence that it's related to Alfen organized crime. Dil'Sorden's murder rapidly becomes the least of their troubles, as they get caught up in an Alfen power struggle with a garnish of a planned multinational invasion of Alfheim, with the survival of all the worlds at stake.

That the Alfen know a great deal more about worldgating than they've ever shared or hinted at is, of course, not even a surprise, by the time Lee and Gelart start to figure out the Alfen factions involved.

I haven't really done justice to this book; it's a lot of fun. I'd be happy to see more of Lee and Gelart, at least as long as they remain in mass market paperback.

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