Kara Dalkey,
Crystal Sage
(Roc, 1999)

Dalkey goes home to Colorado for the second novel in her series of fantasies set in various cities in the United States. Crystal Sage is about Joan Dark, a self-employed cleaning woman. There is no hidden mystery about her name -- Dalkey establishes a connection to Joan of Arc right away. But unlike her namesake, this Joan doesn't hear voices, and she doesn't want to, either. Practical and hard-nosed, she prefers to leave the otherworldly stuff to her apprentice, Miriam Sanderson.

All that changes abruptly when she finds that one of her cleaning clients and friends, Gillian, has been turned into a guitar. If that isn't enough for Joan to cope with, Gillian's transformation came about because she annoyed a prince of the Sidhe, one known as the Amadan. Readers of Dalkey's Steel Rose will know right away that tangling with the Amadan -- who goes by the name of Brian Amadan when dealing with mortals -- is not a Good Thing.

While trying to track down Brian Amadan, they learn that he is trying to get people to buy up land throughout Colorado and transform it into a primeval forest. He agrees to restore Gillian if Joan and Miriam can find the crystal sage -- and that's where their troubles really begin.

Joan and Miriam range across the state, trying to figure out just what crystal sage is, while at the same time looking for a way to ensure that Amadan keeps his promises. They are aided by an assortment of characters, including Cain, an odd young man with some, well, unusual habits, a ghost who is probably not a ghost, a buffalo man who appears to Joan in visions, and some sympathetic Sidhe, among others. The pace of the story never falters, right up until the final showdown with the Amadan.

There is less of a sense of place here than there was in Steel Rose, although this might be a reflection of geography. Her characters don't seem to undergo quite the same growth, although Miriam, a kind of New Age dabbler, becomes more focused while Joan becomes more open to the possibilities around her.

I think it's impossible for Dalkey to write a bad book -- these are minor flaws. Her writing flows as smoothly and richly as good vanilla ice cream and whets your appetite for more.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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