cover image Wrapt in Crystal

Wrapt in Crystal

Sharon Shinn. Ace Books, $13.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-441-00616-8

The author of the Samaria Trilogy (Archangel, etc.) returns with another story of religious faith crossed by mortal will. The Intergalactic Alliance of Federated Planets has been courting the isolated world of Semay, source of rare and expensive spices, for more than a decade--so Interfed is eager to assist when Semay asks for help solving a baffling serial murder case. All of the victims were priestesses of two different religions dedicated to the Semay goddess Ava. The sybaritic Triumphantes' teachings are the most popular, drawing rich and influential followers, while the Fideles appeal to stern ascetics--the two, a Triumphante says, are ""as different as night and day. As sun and shadow. As joy and grief."" When Lt. Cowen Drake of Interfed's elite Moonchild Forces arrives to investigate the crimes, he knows he's treading delicate diplomatic terrain. In a land where piety can wear such opposing forms, his own irreligious attitude makes him an outsider twice over. Even so, he finds himself drawn to both a Triumphante high priestess and a Fidele ""ermana."" A possible link between the deaths and the mysterious disappearance of a Triumphante woman five years ago hints at an off-world murderer. And, as Drake tracks down the killer, the case takes on a dangerous personal dimension. Shinn's flair for intriguing settings and sympathetic characters remains strong. Although feminists may cringe a little at the final pages, readers who like old-fashioned romantic endings will not be disappointed. (May)