by Elizabeth Bear
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Elizabeth Bear's New Amsterdam predates the television series which not only shares its name but many of its features. Bear's stories are set in a world in which England still rules portions of North America, although there is still a strong Dutch element. Her protagonist, Lady Abigail Irene Garrett, is a sorceress and a detective in New Amsterdam, and consorts not only with the Duke of New York, but also with Don Sebastien de Ulloa, an age-old wampyr. Using her magic, and Sebastien's powers as well, Garrett solves crimes in her strange world while dealing with the love triangle of wampyr, detective, and duke.
Portions of New Amsterdam were previously published in Interzone and Subterranean magazines, but Bear has reworked them to make those portions flow together more smoothly than if they were simply stand-alone stories. The result is that the story arc covered by Garrett's varied adventures in New Amsterdam tells one large story from Sebastien's arrival in New Amsterdam to his eventual departure for Boston and finally Paris. Although his travels, as well as those of Garrett and other characters, are caused, somewhat indirectly, by major world evens, Bear never allows those events to overshadow her characters, their relationships, or the cases Garrett is working on.
New Amsterdam has two protagonists, with Garrett taking at the role at times and Sebastien filling the role at other times. As the novel progresses, Sebastien takes center stage more often an his court, made up of Garrett, Jack Priest, and Mrs. Smith, among others, falls into a support role as their fates, tied to Sebastien, don't allow them as much freedom as they would have had without Sebastien's influence.
Although Sebastien is a wampyr and Garrett is a sorceress, these labels donít do them justice. Bear is not interested in rehashing the traditional vampire story, and she spends only the most minimal amount of time describing Sebastianís vampiric tendencies. Similarly, although Garrett occasionally uses magic to help her solve a crime, it is simply a tool and the detective is much more likely to use her intelligence and personality to learn what she needs to discover her culprits.
Each of the chapters/short stories in the book detail Garrett or Sebastien's adventures, often surrounding a mystery since Garrett is a detective. As such, each of these section stands quite well on its own. However, as the book progresses, the overarching story of Sebastien's life as a wampyr and Garrett's relationships with both him and the duke (and others) begins to take on a prominence which it doesn't have in any of the specific stories. New Amsterdam is definitely a book in which the entire entity is greater than the sum of its parts.
Readers who enjoy Garrett's personality and adventures should be aware that not all of the stories concerning the sorcerous detective have been collected in New Amsterdam. At least one other tale, Almost True has been published, although it appeared as a limited edition chapbook which sold out before publication. It does indicate, however, that Bear may not be finished with her characters.There is a grittiness to Bearís New Amsterdam, but just as with the overall world situation, it does not overshadow Bearís characters or their situations. If anything, Bear has given clues that her world is much more detailed and lively than she has desired to show. Combined with her characters, Bear achieves the result that her readers finish New Amsterdam wanting to know more.
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