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Steel Rose

by Kara Dalkey

paperback edition

It's about time someone wrote an urban fantasy set in Pittsburgh. In Steel Rose, Kara Dalkey has done a fine job of translating the city's recurring struggles between labor and management into the eternal battle between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts of Elfdom.

Performance art is the most important thing in Pitt student T.J. Kaminsky's life. She wants to shake smug yuppies out of their complacency, but her act is so awful that she's only driving them out of the audience. While rehearsing for a last-chance performance in Schenley Park, she accidentally summons a pair of plug-ugly creatures who sympathize with her goal of shocking the Beautiful People. They offer to magically boost her act and supply an audience to offend, and T.J. accepts. But the beautiful people in the audience turn out to be High Elves, and T.J. has offended them so successfully that they're out for her blood. She's dismayed to realize that she has unwittingly become the champion of the Unseelie court, but she can't back out of the deal. On the bright side, the two Courts are working up to an all-out turf war for control of Pittsburgh, so T.J. may not live long enough to regret her decision.

Dalkey lays the local color on pretty thick, but her detail is almost entirely accurate, right down to the buslines. It's not gratuitous; Pittsburgh's blue-collar work ethic and the history of its steel mills play an important role in the story. I had trouble taking the performance art bits seriously, and T.J.'s narration is occasionally whiny, especially in the first few chapters. But Steel Rose is a clever reversal of the struggles in Emma Bull's War For the Oaks and Charles de Lint's Jack the Giant-Killer, and fans of those authors should enjoy it.

-- Christina Schulman.
Reviewed in
December 1997

paperback edition
Publisher: Roc
Date: December 1997
ISBN: 0-451-45639-4
Binding: paperback
Pages: 579
Price: US $5.99, Canada $7.99

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Sep 2001 / CMS