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City of Diamond

by Jane Emerson

paperback edition

City of Diamond is an inventive, sweeping SF novel with a large cast of viewpoint characters and subplots that proliferate like mushrooms. I generally lack the patience for this sort of book, but I stuck with this one because of Jane Emerson's humor and flair.

Five and a half centuries ago, the alien Curosa gave three vast cityships to Adrian Sawyer, a human missionary, so that he could spread the Redemptionist religion among the stars. The Curosa also scattered a few powerful artifacts around the galaxy before they disappeared for good. (This seems to be traditional for inscrutable but generous alien races.) Now, the three ships journey together around the civilized galaxy, trading with the star systems they visit and squabbling among themselves over issues of religion and politics -- which, on the Three Cities, are pretty much the same thing.

Adrian Mercati is the young leader of the City of Diamond. He's charismatic, energetic, and about to be married to Iolanthe, a handy ingenue from the rival ship City of Opal. Adrian and Iolanthe are both very likable, but as the book gets rolling, they fade out as main characters and function largely as the poles around which more interesting characters intrigue.

Because Diamond uppercrust society is so reminiscent of Regency England, it's startling when the story brushes up against the weirder aspects of life in the Three Cities. In particular, the Redemptionist religion is gradually revealed as quite bizarre, but it's bizarre in ways that are very similar to Christianity. (I suspect this is deliberate.)

Emerson's approach to plotting involves the judicious, malicious application of Murphy's Law. She never allows her characters to take the straight line between two goals without putting a roadblock between them, and she's devious enough that the book stays interestingly unpredictable. Unfortunately, the plots are so well thickened that the story suffers somewhat from lack of momentum. Emerson quickly establishes that the Sawyer Crown, one of the fabled Curosa artifacts, is the Magic Plot Object; but she then spends 400 pages spawning story threads and moving pieces into place. And just when the book is getting particularly interesting, it runs out of pages. A sequel is supposed to be on the way.

"Jane Emerson" is actually Doris Egan, author of the cheerfully ruthless Ivory novels. Like the Ivory novels, City of Diamond is full of intrigue, romance, and Egan's usual tart narration. It should especially appeal to fans of Rosemary Edghill and Ellen Kushner.

-- Christina Schulman.
Reviewed in
June 1998

paperback edition
Publisher: DAW
Date: March 1996
ISBN: 0-88677-704-6
Binding: paperback
Pages: 624
Price: US $5.99

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