Originally posted 09/22/10 in my meta/review blog.
Stealing the Elf-King’s Roses is an interesting combination of political intrigue and police procedural, and has the feel of a “grown up” version of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series. (In fact, some of the alternate earths mentioned will be easily recognizable by anyone who has read the Young Wizard books.) This is a near-future science fiction/urban fantasy where a string of alternate Earths are connected by worldgates. (I should also mention here that the Earth the protagonist comes from is not our Earth, though you probably would have figured that out within the first few pages.) The book opens with the discovery of a sixth world, and mentions possible economic and political repercussions as a result of the discovery and possible contact with the sixth world.
Our protagonists are Lee Enfield, a “lanthanomancer,” and prosecutor who has a form of “Second Sight” or clairvoyance, and her partner, a “fayhound” named Gelert. Since we’re introduced to them during the tail end of a trial, we also learn that the Justice System is very, very different in this world; the purpose of the jury/court is to summon the presence of Justice. Justice appears to be an actual entity, which makes the ruling based on guilt or innocence of the defendant, who supplies the verdict. (In this case, a dishonest businessman gets turned into a weasel because he cheated and stole money from his clients. Lee wishes her opposite number good luck in going after an appeal.)
Their next case turns out to be an investigation and forensic analysis of a crime scene, a murder. The victim is an Alfen businessman. Several anomalies are discovered during the course of the investigation, and the murderer when he’s apprehended, confesses to the crime. This murder case turns out to be linked to others with similar anomalies, and Lee finds herself removed from the case and re-assigned to an investigative team being sent to Alfheim after being attacked by unknown persons and receiving a very strange phone message about “the elf-king’s roses.”
Alfheim is an alternate universe mostly closed off from the other alternate worlds because the technology and the very matter of that universe interact very differently with the matter of other alternate universes in the chain. The nearly immortal inhabitants of Alfheim are generally regarded with distrust and almost instinctive dislike. (The general and universal response to the Alfen is “too perfect to be real,” and this turns out to be true in an unexpected way.) Lee has to go from trying to find out why so many murders have been occurring among the Alfen living in other worlds, to figuring out the meaning behind the strange phonecalls she’s been receiving about the roses.
I liked this book over all, but found it a little confusing in places. I wasn’t quite sure how the writer got from point A to point B in the story line, and the breakneck “full immersion” approach to being dumped into Lee’s world doesn’t work for me. (Mostly because Lee’s world is just enough like ours that the parts that aren’t just like ours are extremely jarring for me.) Duane’s characters are engaging and interesting, and once you get into the story, the storyline definitely holds your attention. There is a nice balance of character interaction, drama, suspense and humor, and the forensic/investigative/judicial details felt authentic to me.