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The Grand Ellipse    by Paula Volsky order for
Grand Ellipse
by Paula Volsky
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2000 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Take Around the World in Eighty Days, mix in a World War 2 spy story, and set it in a background that Dave Duncan might have chosen. The result is The Grand Ellipse, a hilarious romp of a romantic adventure through an extraordinary fantasy world. Its heroine is the lovely Luzelle Devaire, a female Indiana Jones - lecturer, traveller and adventuress, whose family disapproves of her lifestyle. Unfortunately the inheritance that supported it is running out.

Luzelle is approached by her country's government. They offer to sponsor her involvement in the Grand Ellipse, a race around the world, whose prize is to be awarded by King Miltzin IX of Low Hetz. The idea is that Luzelle should win, gain access to the king, and influence him to sell her government sentient fire, a potentially devastating weapon developed by an adept in the king's employ. Concerned to maintain his country's neutrality, 'Mad' Miltzin refuses to share the knowledge while Vonahr desperately needs a super-weapon to protect itself from the Grewzians, a Nazi-like Empire well on the way to world domination.

So Luzelle sets of, along with a variety of fellow Ellipsoids, including her countryman and ex-fianc9 Girays v'Alisante, and the handsome Overcommander Karsler Stornzof, who is surprisingly decent for a Grewzian. Fellow competitors drop out steadily, through mischance and due to deliberate sabotage. Karsler's ultra-conservative uncle is determined that his nephew succeed for the glory of the Imperium (it wants the sentient fire as well) but he's not the only one throwing a spanner in the works.

Every means of conveyance is used from the traditonal balloons, trains, coaches and boats to sentient vines, magical teleportation and zombie like Quiet-Fellows. My favourite was the barge tugged by yahdeeni, who show their contempt for captain and passengers by spewing all over them. Luzelle, Girays and Karsler help each other along the way as they encounter revolutionaries, cannibals, ghosts and far too many Grewzians exerting their brutal authority.

The race runs its course, while its spectators (for added entertainment) get to read about the eccentric king's interactions with his adept, who is barely in control of sentient fire. It all comes together in a pyrotechnically spectacular conclusion.

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