Book Review: New Amsterdam, by Elizabeth Bear

SubterraneanPress
267 pp.

 New AmsterdamNo one is going to believe that I dislike vampire stories, given the number of books with vampires I have reviewed. (Sadly, it is nearly impossible to avoid them.) If I have to put up with vampires, I would at least like them not to be of the “must kill humans to feed” variety, and that is what we have in this book. Of course, “vampires with harems” can have their own severely disturbing aspects to them when they appear in fiction, but at least I’m not confronted with an often badly handled kill-to-survive ethical dilemma.

New Amsterdam is a steam punk fantasy set in an alternate history where Britain retained its hold on its American colonies. The main characters are Sebastien de Ulloa, an amateur (and reasonably famous) “consulting detective” who happens to be a vampire, and Abigail Irene Garrett, a forensic sorceress with an equally notorious reputation. After making the other’s acquaintance, both Sebastien and Abigail form a working relationship that becomes romantic in between solving cases.

The storyline mostly follows Sebastien who has recently abandoned most of his “court”in Europe to come to the Americas (where his kind is illegal). He is accompanied by his ward Jack Priest, who was apparently the only member of his court that was not willing to be abandoned. Sebastien is also very, very depressed, though he does perk up in order to solve a mystery aboard the zeppelin he is taking to America.

He meets Abigail during a case that she is following. Their subsequent meeting becomes a close friendship, and then a romance. From there, it turns out that Jack has gotten involved with some revolutionaries, and despite having been in Crown law enforcement, Abigail decides to help Jack, Sebastien, and the revolutionaries. (It is not really clear why she is choosing to do this, aside from aggravation with her superiors.)

I was a little frustrated with this book, which really did not have a strong storyline. Instead, it’s mostly a series of character studies interrupted by mysteries that are solved by Sebastien and Irene Abigail. (It helped that the cases were all pretty interesting.) Jack’s story line is just sketched in, having all the dramatic impact of a very dangerous hobby the way it is revealed. (It is understandable when Sebastien reacts this way; he’s a thousand year old vampire, but Abigail Irene does not seem to object to Jack’s “hobby” at all,and you would expect her to given her job.)

The world building in this book was really interesting, and I enjoyed the developing relationship between Sebastien and Irene Abigail. I am definitely going to be reading the sequel when I find it, though I hope it has a stronger storyline. I recommend this book if you happen to enjoy Elizabeth’s Bears other books.

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3 Comments

Filed under alternate history, Elizabeth Bear, fantasy, Review: Book, science fiction elements

3 responses to “Book Review: New Amsterdam, by Elizabeth Bear

  1. The sequel is a pain in the neck to track down since it was a small print run, but I recall eBear mentioning that the publisher found a box of them a while back. Granted, because the books were published with a small specialty press (Subterranean Press), they are pretty expensive: Seven for a Secret is $25 for a hardcover, despite being a novella-length 128 pages. But they're in-stock there for now. I got my copy a week or two ago.

  2. We'll see if my budget can afford it.

  3. I just read one of the sequels, The White City, and my review is here. I thought it was okay, but I think I might prefer to read New Amsterdam.

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