The Grand Ellipse (2000) is set in the fantasy world in which Paula Volsky had set others of her books like The White Tribunal and Illusion. As far as I know it is the last book so set, and it is also the best - revisiting many of the locations from the previous books.
A strong female lead, the adventuress Luzelle Devaire competes
in race organised by a mad king for the chance to meet him. So
she can plead for access to the one thing that might save her
Vonahr homeland from being assimilated by a militaristic
regime. The one thing being a magic called sentient fire.
Very Jack Vance like, through Luzelle's eyes we experience
many strange cultures as much as one of Jack Vance's heroes would.
Also Jack Vance like there is much comedy and farce, with
outstandingly nutty characters like the mad king who felt "Grand
Ellipse" was a better title for his race than "Big Oval".
There are themes here common to Volsky's others books. Old-fashioned
honour, and old-fashioned magic, have almost been relegated to
fairy-tale land. In the world of this book they still exist in
small corners, in forgotten places. You can read more or less into
There are also analogies with the history of our sad world. So
the Grewzian Imperium is very Germanic, and as ruthless as a Nazi
war-machine. But such analogies are not to be taken too far. This
is an enjoyable work of fiction, one I like re-reading.