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Seven for a Secret
Elizabeth Bear
Subterranean Press, 128 pages

Seven for a Secret
Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear shares a birthday with Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. She was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and grew up in central Connecticut. She lived in the Mojave Desert near Las Vegas, Nevada, but has returned to Connecticut. Elizabeth Bear is her real name, but not all of it.

Elizabeth Bear Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Dust
SF Site Review: A Companion to Wolves
SF Site Review: Undertow
SF Site Review: New Amsterdam
SF Site Review: Carnival
SF Site Review: Carnival

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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A couple of years ago Elizabeth Bear published New Amsterdam, a novel fixed up from a series of stories. The stories were a nice combination of alternate history, fantasy, and mystery, and distinctly descendants (much transfigured) of Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy stories, themselves of course to an extent Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Both lines of descent were acknowledged in the character names: the heroine is a detective and magician named Abigail Irene Garrett (Irene perhaps referring to Adler and Garrett of course nodding at Randall) and the hero is a "wampyr" calling himself Sebastien (perhaps I stretch to think that might be a nod to Sebastian Moran). New Amsterdam is an excellent book, succeeding both as a collection of very fine mysteries and, in the end, as a sufficiently unified novel. It came to a fully satisfying conclusion, but here we have a long novella as a sort of pendant -- and it is also first rate.

Seven for a Secret is set some 35 years after the close of New Amsterdam -- thus, in this alternate history, in about 1938. Sebastien and his companions, chief among them Abby Irene and her not quite friend Phoebe Smith, have taken up residence in London. But it is a changed London, occupied by Germans -- or, really, Prussians. For in this changed history, there is no Hitler, but there is a Hitler analogue -- and sort of a Bismarck successor -- and England is under his sway. Sebastien thinks himself indifferent to evanescent human politics, but his loved ones are not indifferent -- and so neither is he. And when he encounters a couple of young women, illicit lovers, who are also recruits in the Alliance of English Girls, that is, collaborationists, he decides to interfere. But more scarily, Sebastien quickly gathers, this group is not just a collaborationist circle, but instead an attempt by the Prussians to, by magical means, create werewolves to be soldiers in the Prussian Army.

Besides focusing on Sebastien and the much-aged Abby Irene, the story also follows the two girls, particularly Ruth, who is as it happens a Jewish refugee. And eventually she becomes a hope in Sebastien's mind for an ally -- surely a Jewish girl -- and a Lesbian -- will not be truly a willing collaborator! And that then is Sebastien's hope for a way to get to the Prussian Chancellor.

While there is certainly sufficient action and suspense here to please the reader, that's not quite where the real interest in the novel lies. The action really stops before the climax, in a sense -- though that's not quite fair. By the end, we know the shape of things -- no point, I suppose, in ticking off the inevitable conclusion. Rather, I loved the depiction of Abby Irene as a very old woman, and of the undying Sebastien preparing to once again say farewell to loved ones. And Ruth and her milieu were also engaging and interesting characters to follow. This could certainly have been a novel, but I think Bear does well to restrict it to its essence, this satisfying novella.

Copyright © 2009 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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