Having read about this book for years I have no idea why it was so hard for me to read it at first. I would pick it up, put it down, and find a new book to read (something I never do) and then try t again. Something just wasn't clicking for me. Finally I decided that I had read too many books by this author and they were too formulaic somehow. All of Sharon Shinn's heroes are noble, hopelessly, selflessly, charmingly, noble. Admittedly if one must have a hero in a book it is good to make that hero a good man, but the profile with this author is too narrow. You could take a hero out of any of her novels and drop into another one and with the exception of some angel wings, never know the difference.
Only this book is different. To summarize-"Wrapt in Crystal" is about a planet that is on the verge on joining a confederation of planets (think Star Trek) and brining with it a much wealthier planet. But this planet has some reservations. So when priestesses of the major religion on the planet, from both sects of the religion, start turning up murdered the planetary forces strike a deal. A Moonchild investigator (the moonchildren are like the space police) will come and solve the serial killings, and then maybe the planet will federate.
So we meet Cowen Drake, a man who lost his faith a long time ago. Like all of Shinn's heroes he is selfless, smart, charming, and more than a little bit damaged. He's also puzzled about the murdered because on Semay (the planet) the priestesses are sacred and off limits to any kind of violence. There is no discernable reason anyone would want to kill either a joy worshiping Triumphante or a more solemn Fidele. In fact the only clue he has to this mystery is one that doesn't even fit the puzzle-a young Triumphante priestess who disappeared into thin air after unspeakable tragedy.
And as he learns the language and culture of the planet, and becomes friends with two very different amazing priestess ("as different as joy and sorrow") the murdered is coming closer and closer to what he seeks....
I say this book is different because of the spiritual nature of it. Shinn obviously put in a lot of thought to the religion she created and the culture it serves. Not only that but the book raises some interesting issues in and off itself about faith and it is a double edges sword: how easy it is to lose it, or lose yourself in it to avoid life altogether. There's also a current running through this book about light and redemption that is-well, almost spooky because of how appealing it is. I would recommend this book for that aspect along, although the mystery isn't that bad. I figured it out before Drake did, but he was a little distracted, and too be fair I didn't have every element figured out.
So in the end this is a book worth reading. Tragic heroes do have their place after all, and Drake is a great example of that. And the ending is amazing.