Having never read a novel by Diane Duane, I was not sure what to expect. Though her reputation as a prolific wordsmith in the Fantasy & Science Fiction genre preceded her, my path of reading never crossed her path of writing. I also have to admit to being a bit put off by the cover-while a beautiful painting by the great Don Maitz, it seemed very much aimed to bring in female readers. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed this entertaining and satisfying novel.
Creating a believable, plausible cross over fantasy novel is something quite a few fantasy authors have attempted, each with varying degrees of success. To Steal the Elf-King’s Roses could, on the surface, be written off as simply another cross over novel, but Diane Duane has crafted a novel far exceeding the surface appearances. Mixed in this fine novel are sprinklings of Welsh Folklore, ample portions of mystery, an impressive back-story to the world(s) and the peoples in this novel as well as a dose of science. Opening the novel with a “newspaper” clipping immediately gave the world Duane created a solid grounding in believability. As more of this world opened up to reveal a solid economic system with the very real characters further served to make this a credible, plausible world.
The novel’s protagonist, Lee Enfield is a prosecutor in the near future of Los Angeles. Cross-universal travel has been part of daily life for a number of years-the land of Elves being the most magical, and shrouded of these lands. Lee and her partner, Gelert, one of the intelligent speaking fayhounds that is a regular citizen in Lee’s world, are given to investigate the murder of an Elf, something very rare in itself. From this point Duane plots out an entertaining and suspenseful page-turner. Along the way, Duane sheds light on the mysterious Elves and the product of their world, Alfheim that is the most highly sought out commerce product in all of the worlds-Fairy Gold.
One quality of this novel that was consistent throughout was how the story resonated. One of the strongest reverberating aspects of the novel was Duane’s nod to Welsh folklore. Readers familiar with Welsh lore or legends surrounding the heritage of the Irish Wolfhound breed of dog will enjoy the reference and to the legendary Gelert. Again, on the surface a talking dog can be silly, but Duane does a commendable job of making Gelert a very believable character. As I was reading the story, at times, he came across as “human” or as recognizable as Lee in her humanity. Gelert is a nod to his Welsh heritage in more than name. Duane was able to both interweave a fairly well known folk tale and make a believable character in Gelert.
Another aspect of the novel and story that resonated for me was how Duane was able to nod to Dunsany’s masterpiece The King of Elfland’s Daughter. She paints a nice homage to this classic, and likely the inspirations for Dunsany’s masterpiece, in the passages describing Alfheim and common myths, both as they are held in Alfheim and ours. What is as interesting is seeing the minor differences in the Elves perception of these myths, and indeed humans, and human perception of the myths and the Elves. It can be said that Duane tried to make a comment on racial prejudices with the conflicting attitudes and preconceived notions of the Elves and Humans. Whether this is the case or not, it did not come across as heavy-handed preaching, just a part of the story and something that is, unfortunately, natural to cultures that are so diverse.
With all of the history and culture hinted at in this novel, Diane Duane has left me curious about other stories in this world. To sum up, this novel is grounded with believable characters, plausible fantastical cross over elements and worlds that beg to be explored. I would recommend to this enjoyable novel to readers of both fantasy or mystery.
Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford
© 2002 Rob Bedford