Bell Curran's Reviews > New Amsterdam

New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear
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it was amazing
bookshelves: steampunk, vampires, favorites

What a pity that this is out of print. It's a very erudite version of steampunk. On one level, it is a series of chapters* that span the time period from 1899 to 1903. Each of the chapters stand alone, and perhaps in a previous life, they were short stories. Each chapter is its own self-contained mystery which is solved by 1,100-year old vampire and detective, Sebastien de Ulloa, and 50-ish former bombshell, Lady Abigail Irene Garrett, who is not only notorious for her liaisons with powerful, married men but also a formidable forensic sorceress and Detective Crown Investigator.

Sebastien is leaving Spain and his court for the New World, at that time the English colony of New Amsterdam, and travels only with his companion Jack, a 16-year old boy who was raised as Sebastien's ward after he was bought at a young age from some sort of slavery/indenture situation and then freed by Sebastien. Now Jack is a jealous lover who feeds Sebastien not only for the pleasure he gets from it but out of love for his vampire. The first mystery is solved by Sebastian and Jack: that of a murder on the dirigible taking them to New Amsterdam. In New Amsterdam, Sebastien encounters DCI Garrett, aka Lady Abby Irene, when they are working on a case together, and they collaborate on future cases after that.

When these individual mysteries are strung together, they tell a broader story about the political intrigues between the murderous home rule-espousing local Lord Mayor of New Amsterdam; Duke Richard, who represents the English crown and won't leave his wife (to whom he owes his political power) even as he flaunts his affair with Lady Abby Irene in front of her; Prince Henry, heir to the throne of England; and the French Prime Minister, who is about to dive into a proxy war against England by supporting the home rule faction in the colonies.

The broader scope of the book also tells a story about the evolving relationships between a vampire and the members of his "court" who all love him -- and, increasingly, each other -- and the difficulties that Sebastien has dealing with the fleeting lives of the humans he loves, and the fleeting love of another vampire he has given life to.

"Mortal lifetimes were a mercy to love, Sebastien thought. It could endure that long."

As gorgeously written and erudite as it is, it's also compelling, often a page-turner, yet at other times you can enjoy reading slowly and savour the prose. Beautiful.

Recommended for: people who like their mysteries well-written.

Not recommended for: anyone who enjoyed Red-Headed Stepchild.

*The chapters have poetic titles that stretched my English vocabulary skills, and I wish I'd looked up what the first and fourth meant before reading:

1. Lucifugous: light-avoiding, according to my dictionary, as in owls, bats, and -- you guessed it -- vampires (that part isn't in my dictionary)

2. Wax

3. Wane (I didn't need to look up 2 or 3, thank god)

4. Limerent: limerence is, according to Wikipedia (which we know is never wrong), a neologism coined in 1977 to denote the "involuntary state of mind which seems to result from a romantic attraction for another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one's feelings reciprocated." It is thus perhaps connected to the urban dictionary definition for limerant (which is how I originally mis-typed it), defined as "A floaty, manic, excited, feeling that often arises after meeting or spending time with someone who you are recently attracted to."

5. Chatoyent: an optical reflectance effect seen in certain gemstones e.g cat's eyes and star sapphires

6. Lumiere: French for light, here referring to Paris, the city of lights (where the court spends this chapter) as well as the new technology that character Dr Tesla uses to light the city with electricity.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
July 22, 2011 – Shelved
July 22, 2011 – Shelved as: steampunk
July 22, 2011 – Shelved as: vampires
July 22, 2011 – Shelved as: favorites

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