New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Series: there's a sequel due out in early 2009
Publisher: Far Territories, a division of Subterranean Press
Publication Year: 2007
Price: $18.97 CAD or $14.95 USD. It doesn't look like it's available in the UK, unfortunately
Status: library, dammit
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.
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