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Wrapt in Crystal by Sharon Shinn
(Ace, $13.95) ISBN: 0-441-006167
****
Sharon Shinn combined science fiction and romance to acclaim with her Samaria Trilogy. (Angels, adventure and romance, oh my!) In Wrapt in Crystal she adds the framework of a third genre, mystery, to her blend.

This time the reader is transported to the far future planet of Semay. Authorities on this relatively peaceful world have been unable to apprehend the serial killer preying on their priestesses. So officials ask Interfed, a federation of planets seeking to bring independent Semay into the fold, to help them solve the murders. As a goodwill gesture in the continuing political negotiations, Cowen Drake of the elite peacekeeping Moonchild fleet is dispatched to Semay to help in the murder investigation.

Since the serial killer is targeting in turn priestesses from both of Semay's religious sects, Cowen immediately sets out to learn more about them. His contact from the opulent and joyful state-supported sect of the Triumphantes is their leader, Jovieve. The rather less favored and more austere sect of worshippers, the Fideles, gives him Laura as a spokesperson. It is on the strength of Cowen's relationship with these two women, the wise, refined and sensual Jovieve and the ascetic, intense, and repressed Laura, that Wrapt in Crystal succeeds.

Though Cowen is strong and successful, he's a loner at heart. As a proud Moonchild officer he is surprised that his time on Semay awakens in him the yearning for something more. Cowen's past has hurt him deeply and made him suspicious of religion, but he's drawn to the spirituality of Jovieve and Laura. Jovieve is a bright shining light, willing to give of her love generously. But it is the closed-off Laura who makes Cowen's heart ache.

In the process of uncovering clues about the murders and the necessary interaction with the Triumphantes and Fideles, Cowen begins to reevaluate his own history with his religion. Yet surprisingly, there was nothing preachy about the novel. Rather, it was quietly moving story about how people, once having lost faith, can still hold and hope for redemption, healing, and happiness.

The murder story was one of the less interesting aspects of the story. It continually seemed as though the world of Semay and the actions of her people were constructed to serve the needs of the suspense plot. Unfortunately, the murder mystery relied a bit too much on coincidence more than once. And as absorbing as the inter-personal relationships in Wrapt in Crystal were, even the ending to the romantic thread felt anti-climactic and, well, tacked-on.

Even though this novel is set on a newly introduced world, and global and inter-planetary politics come into play, the work has an intimate tone. The strength of this book isn't in the world-building or the mystery, but rather in the emotional journey of the characters. This is a strength continued from Shinn's Samaria Trilogy. And despite lacking the almost powerfully archetypal hook of having angels as characters, this is still an engaging read.

--Preeti Singh


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