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Stella Matutina
books and stories and musings, oh my!
New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear 
5th-Dec-2008 10:36 am
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Series: there's a sequel due out in early 2009
Publisher: Far Territories, a division of Subterranean Press
Publication Year: 2007
Pages: 267
Price: $18.97 CAD or $14.95 USD. It doesn't look like it's available in the UK, unfortunately
Status: library, dammit

LibraryThing Info

Amazon Info

You may recall that I've been having a bitch of a reading year. I've read some really good stuff, but very few things have jumped out at me. Very few titles have blown me out of the water, delighted the hell out of me, or ripped my heart out and stopped on it. Even fewer have done all three.

Enter NEW AMSTERDAM, which did.

To be honest, I began the book with some trepidation. It looked good, yes, but my experience with BLOOD AND IRON had made me a bit gun-shy. I should've known better. Time and again, the things that knock my socks off are the things I least expected to enjoy.

NEW AMSTERDAM is a series of six interconnected novellas about an amateur detective and a forensic investigator in early twentieth century America. The catch is that the detective is a vampire and the forensic investigator uses magic instead of science. And they live in a gorgeously realized alternate world in which the American colonies have yet to revolt, New Amsterdam was ceded to the British not quite a hundred years ago, and the supernatural is an accepted part of everyday life.

It's bloody brilliant.

It's one of those books that's so good you almost want to quit reading lest the rest of it let you down. You figure that Bear can't possibly maintain this level of quality, that's she's going to bungle it somehow. And yet, she never does. This is fantastic from the first story to the last.

There's a lot to love here; a lot to gush about, really. To begin, the characterization is superb. It's their interactions that define these characters. Bear shows us how they feel about one another, what tensions exist between them, how their relationships drive their actions and inform their choices. It’s beautifully done. Bear drew me straight in and made me feel for them.

The plotting is equally good. In crafting each mystery, Bear has found the perfect blend of carefully distributed clues, political discord and personal impact. I wanted to know how each investigation would play out, sure, but it was my desire to see how the results would affect the protagonists that really kept me reading.

And the world building? Damn, is it ever good. I love alternate histories, and I find it just fascinating to see how particular authors structure theirs. Bear's alternate world is similar to our own in many respects, but the addition of the supernatural has shifted things in some surprising ways. I was particularly impressed with the lasting impact magic has had on this society. New Amsterdam isn’t just New York with a different name; it’s situated within a different political milieu dictated by the impact magic and the supernatural have had on the world. I found the territorial stuff particularly interesting, and the technological differences were great. Motion pictures in 1899? Zeppelins across the Atlantic? Broadcast electricity? Forensic magic? Darlin', you can bet I was all over it.

Then there were all the great little details that I reacted to on a personal level. Garrett's little dog stands out the most. Y'all know I'm a dog person; I believe that everything's just a little bit better if a dog is involved. Mike may not add anything to the plot, but he definitely made me smile.

And I feel a bit strange, mentioning it in an offhand way at the very end of the review, but I also appreciated Bear's take on vampirism. She picks and chooses from the old legends to produce something that feels very real.

I'll say it again: this was bloody brilliant. I was always eager, even desperate, to read more. It blew me out of the water, delighted the hell out of me and, in the end, ripped my heart straight out of my chest. I can't wait to read the sequel, SEVEN FOR A SECRET.

You need to read this.

4.5 stars

Other Reviews:

Adventures in Reading
Bookspot Central
Libri Touches
The SF Site
Super Reader

If I've missed yours, please let me know!
Magical Realism
5th-Dec-2008 05:22 pm (UTC)
Well hell, you've convinced me! This book sounds amazing. I'm going to have to order this.
5th-Dec-2008 05:23 pm (UTC)
By the way, here in a little while (couple weeks) I'm going to be starting a blog for my bookstore and I was wondering if you would mind if I linked to your reviews? You do such a fantastic job with them.

Also, just out of curiosity, what are some of your favorite book/book related blogs/websites/etc.?
6th-Dec-2008 05:28 am (UTC)
I wouldn't mind at all! Let me know when the Passages blog is up and I'll add you to my blogroll. :)

Said blogroll has lots of great blogs on it. books i done read is a particular favourite, though; her reviews are hilarious, and she reads all sorts of different stuff.

As far as other book sites go, I really recommend LibraryThing. It's a great resource. I've heard a lot about Shelfari and GoodReads, too, but I haven't used them at all.

And I hope you enjoy NEW AMSTERDAM. I think it'll be right up your alley. :)

Edited at 2008-12-06 05:29 am (UTC)
6th-Dec-2008 11:24 pm (UTC)
Oh wow. Say no more - I am absolutely sold.
7th-Dec-2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
Horray! I'm thinking this will be my new book I bludgeon people over the head with. Anyone asks me what they should read next, I'm telling them about New Amsterdam!
8th-May-2009 08:56 pm (UTC)
*has just, as in not a minute ago, finished* She didn't. She didn't. *points at ending for clarification as is trying to avoid spoilers*

I feel like throwing a tantrum now.
9th-May-2009 12:06 am (UTC)
I know!!!!!! *also trying to avoid spoilers*
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