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Steel Rose
Kara Dalkey
Roc Books, 315 pages

Steel Rose
Kara Dalkey
Kara Dalkey's previous work includes the Sagamore series, Euryale, The Nightingale, Goa and Bijapur.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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Kara Dalkey's latest novel, Steel Rose, is a departure from anything she's had published before. While Dalkey's early works were considered either epic or historical fantasy, Steel Rose is a modern urban fantasy about a young performance artist trying to make it in Pittsburgh.

The novel opens with a young woman, T.J. Kaminski, creating a piece of performance art at the Per Forma, a Pittsburgh performance art theater/cafe. Although it isn't clear, at first, whether T.J. is simply a bad performance artist or parodying the art form, Dalkey makes it clear that she just isn't very good. Unfortunately, despite T.J.'s enthusiasm for the art form, Dalkey is never successful in giving the reader an understanding of what performance art is attempting to achieve. As an art form, it seems to have a reasonably limited audience and those who are not part of that audience have a tendency to look on it with a mixture of humor and skepticism.

As the reader gets to know T.J., they discover that she is a reasonably shallow college student who feels the previous, Baby Boomer, generation has destroyed the world without consideration for their offspring, such as Gen-Xer T.J.  Moreover, while T.J. cares about a variety of big issues, she is, at heart, self-centered. Shy with limited talents, she is more than willing to attack those who share her characteristics while she wonders why the people she respects want to have as little to do with her as possible.

Of course, everything begins to change when T.J. accidentally conjures up two magical creatures reminiscent of sidekicks from a Disney animated film, who she refers to as "Ralph" and "Norton" after a show she watched on the "Nostalgia Channel." Dalkey has always used humor in her writing, dating back to the Sagamore books and her Liavek short stories. For some reason, her humorous characters in Steel Rose, Ralph and Norton, seem to be out of place.

Dalkey's book falls firmly into the elves in an urban world sub-genre of fantasy which was pioneered by Mercedes Lackey and Esther Friesner. Once her elves make their appearance, they are neither the helpful elves of many fairy stories nor the mysterious elves of Tolkien, but rather Shakespearean elves with attitude -- a common depiction in urban fantasy.

In fact, T.J. finds herself involved in the standard sort of struggle between the Seeley (elves) and the Unseeley (lesser supernatural creatures) over the fate of the world. This seems to be a fairly typical novel for this sub-genre, although Dalkey does add a few minor details as well as bringing her own writing style and sense of humor to its execution. There is definitely an audience for Steel Rose, but if you are not a person who enjoys elves in urbania, Steel Rose probably would not be for you.

Copyright © 1997 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.


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