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Crystal Sage
Kara Dalkey
Roc Books, 266 pages

Crystal Sage
Kara Dalkey
Kara Dalkey is the author of many short stories and novels, including Little Sister and The Nightingale. In addition to writing, she plays electric bass guitar, paints, dabbles in community theatre, and practices shotokan karate and tae kwon do.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Heavenward Path
SF Site Review: Steel Rose

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Lisa DuMond

Think of fantasy, and magical elements and most likely a fantastical setting comes to mind. Castles, dragons, far-away realms where people speak impenetrable Elizabethan English, and other impossible ingredients are the stuff of true fantasy -- light and dark. Right? I guess you haven't discovered Kara Dalkey's contemporary series, then. If you had, the cities and towns of America might well be the first places to pop into your mind.

In Steel Rose, Dalkey followed the travails of a performance artist faced with the darker side of magic in no less familiar a setting than Pittsburgh. She also introduced the magical and dangerous Sidhe, a fairy race eager to break through into this world. Sidhe may be good or bad or somewhere in between, but finding out who is on what side may well be beyond mortals, and just might bring about that very mortality.

Crystal Sage takes readers to Colorado, and from small-town Dawson's Butte, to Colorado Springs, to the wilderness of the Rockies. Everything seems to be perfectly normal -- all right, a trifle boring -- in the cozy ranching town of Dawson's Butte. That is, until a musicologist starts to dig too deep into ancient Celtic lyrics and melodies, and is promptly transformed into a guitar for her troubles. Her only hope lies with her friend and house-cleaner, Joan. Joan's only hope to succeed is Miriam, trainee and new-age devotee.

Their quest will take them from one border of Colorado to another, from the plains to the forbidding mountains. Along the way, they will enlist the help of a variety of creatures, human and otherwise. Tracking down the elusive and enigmatic Amadan is an essential, but highly unpleasant task -- maybe even a fatal one.

Through one brush with death after another, the women will fight on. And end up fighting each other. The stress and pressure are more than mere mortals can be expected to handle.

Dalkey's choice of setting is an intriguing one; this is familiar territory to some, but to most readers it will be as alien and unknown as any of those fairy kingdoms. As new as the terrain may be to some of us, though, it is a place we can find, that we know exists. That very concrete basis is the source of much of the tension in Crystal Sage; if it could happen there...

It's an involving story with plenty of twists and surprises and creepy beings. The beautiful backdrop of Colorado makes every leg of their journey an adventure. And the range of characters keeps the interactions interesting.

If there is one weakness, it rests in the make-up of the main characters, themselves. None of the principals is a person the reader can get wholeheartedly behind. At one time or another, each of them becomes extremely aggravating, illogical, or exhausting. Come to think of it, just like the people you are surrounded by every day.

Give Crystal Sage a chance. Bring fantasy back to the real world. You'll enjoy the familiar territory for a change.

Copyright © 1999 Lisa DuMond

Lisa DuMond writes science fiction and humour. She co-authored the 45th anniversary issue cover of MAD Magazine. Previews of her latest, as yet unpublished, novel are available at Hades Online.

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