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New Amsterdam
Elizabeth Bear
Subterranean Press, 267 pages

New Amsterdam
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 currently lives in the Mojave Desert near Las Vegas, Nevada, but she's trying to escape. Elizabeth Bear is her real name, but not all of it.

Elizabeth Bear Website
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SF Site Review: Carnival
SF Site Review: Carnival

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

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"The Lord Mayor of New Amsterdam, Peter Elliot, would just as soon have kept her out of the case entirely. But the corpse of a millionaire, contained in a locked room, wad just the sort of reason that Crown Investigators existed. The Colonial Police -- who reported to the Lord Mayor -- had a murder squad, but it was not equipped to deal with black sorcery."
New Amsterdam is presented as a series of loosely connected novellas, centred around the crime solving adventures of Lady Abigail Irene Garrett, and Sebastian de Ulloa. Garrett is a flint hard, caustic tongued, forensic sorceress, and de Ulloa is a thousand year-old wampyr, something like a bisexual Hercule Poirot. Beginning separately, but eventually combining talents and causes, the pair make their unique way through six stories, set at the turn of the 20th century. But this is a world in which sorcery is an every day fact of life, vampires are an accepted race, intercontinental travel is via Zeppelin, and the sun never set on the British Empire. A world where England is still on the verge of war with France, Holland only ceded New Amsterdam to the English Crown during the Napoleonic wars, and the war magic of the Iroquois halted colonial expansion.

For those enamoured with vampire detective fiction, but bored with the crudity of Laurell K. Hamilton, and the foppish frills of Anne Rice, Elizabeth Bear has the answer. New Amsterdam provides cooler, intellectually laced intrigue, aimed at readers comfortable with subtle minutia and artfully crafted characterisation. Sebastian de Ulloa, who in less skilled hands could easily have been just another old blood-sucker, is drawn as a complex creature, at odds with others of his kind, and ready to abandon the 1000 years of his European lives, in favour of a new start in the New World of America. A place he travels to accompanied by Jack Priest, the young man who is both his lover, and the one remaining member of his retinue. Together they form a new crime solving partnership. In parallel with this, Abigail Irene Garrett is introduced as a Detective Crown Investigator, middle-aged though still handsome, fiercely intelligent, yet burdened by a past riddled with scandalous choices. Six stories are interlaced in a highly literate steampunk/supernatural collage, sometimes shown from Abby Irene's point of view, at other junctures from behind the almost immortal eyes of Sebastian. Mystery and murder weave in and around complex issues of loyalty, romance, injustice and international politics. Throughout, Bear cleverly shifts focus between the love triangle of Sebastian, Abby Irene and young Jack, revealing perspectives and prejudices, layer upon layer.

Zeppelins, fanged beasts in the darkness, vampire society, royal politics, jealousy and even a guest appearance by Nikola Tesla combine to produce an intoxicating brew. Refreshingly, the author does not lose plot difficulties at convenient points, preferring to allow them to stick out thorn-like, where they frequently snag the characters. All the major cast consistently show maturity and depths that most authors writing in this sub-genre either cannot or will not employ. This plus, however, is also something of a minus, in as much as Bear's style can occasionally be challenging to read. New Amsterdam demands close attention, and could never be mistaken for a pot-boiling page-turning romp. But, if a reader is willing to put in the effort, the reward is a level of absorption and realism above and beyond any of the competition.

Copyright © 2007 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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