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Review: New Amsterdam

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Reading | Posted on 16-02-2008

4

I’m all infat­u­at­ed with yet anoth­er author, my friends, so I must warn you that you’ll be read­ing much more about Eliz­a­beth Bear here in com­ing weeks.

Cover of New Amsterdam by Elizabeth BearNew Ams­ter­dam is an anthol­o­gy of con­nect­ed sto­ries twined around two main char­ac­ters. “The Great Detec­tive” is vam­pire Sebastien de Ulloa. Lady Abi­gail Irene Gar­rett is a foren­sic sor­ceror, Detec­tive Crown Inves­ti­ga­tor in His Majesty’s Ser­vice in the colony of New Ams­ter­dam. At the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tu­ry, North Amer­i­ca is still a patch­work of Euro­pean colonies, with all the atten­dant polit­i­cal intrigue and mil­i­tary ten­sion.

Bear’s love of the Vic­to­ri­an peri­od is obvi­ous, and the steam­punk touch­es are a delight. There are zep­pelins, so I expect that Sam will prob­a­bly read it. We even get a small appear­ance from Niko­lai Tes­la, which is near­ly guar­an­teed to delight.

I found Abi­gail Irene refresh­ing, an inde­pen­dent, 50-ish pro­fes­sion­al who speaks her own mind and ful­fills her oaths as fierce­ly as any pal­adin. Her flaws make her all the more real. Sebastien is a bit hard­er, per­haps because I’ve read too many vam­pire sto­ries. He isn’t per­fect, but he’s too close to it for my tastes. I nev­er real­ly “felt” him as I did Abi­gail Irene.

These are not bright and shiny sto­ries. There are shades of grey present, and the end isn’t a ful­ly hap­py one. It is, how­ev­er, True in that sense that some things fit in a tale whether you want­ed them there or not. We don’t always get what we want, but Bear has def­i­nite­ly giv­en us plen­ty of what we need.

P.S. If any­one read­ing has access to the sto­ry “Almost True,” which was pub­lished in a chap­book that accom­pa­nied the lim­it­ed edi­tion of this book, I would give a pret­ty to be able to read it! The library sys­tems to which I have access don’t seem to have it.

Comments (4)

Is this in any­way con­nect­ed with the New Ams­ter­dam TV show?
Sounds inter­est­ing and a read worth pick­ing up.
Thanks for the review.

TV show? I don’t know. I haven’t heard of one, but I’m a new Bear fan. And we don’t have cable, so I’m always out of touch where TV is con­cerned. What is the show about?

From wikipedia:
“The main char­ac­ter is John Ams­ter­dam (Niko­laj Coster-Wal­dau), a New York homi­cide detec­tive who is immor­tal. Ams­ter­dam was a Dutch sol­dier in the year 1642 when he stepped in front of a sword to save the life of a Native Amer­i­can girl dur­ing a mas­sacre of her indige­nous tribe. The girl in turn res­cued Ams­ter­dam by weav­ing an ancient spell that con­ferred immor­tal­i­ty upon him. It was also proph­e­sied that he would not age until he finds his one true love, and only then will he become whole and ready for mor­tal­i­ty. His immor­tal­i­ty has result­ed in Ams­ter­dam spend­ing over three cen­turies of his life marked by loss as his friends grad­u­al­ly grow old and die while he is forced to remain alive. Ams­ter­dam is also a for­mer alco­holic who reg­u­lar­ly attends Alco­holics Anony­mous meet­ings, hav­ing remained sober since 1965.

The basic back-sto­ry appears to have some sim­i­lar­i­ties to the plot of the Pete Hamill book, For­ev­er, which tells the sto­ry of an Irish boy who trav­els to New York to avenge his parent’s death, only to be grant­ed immor­tal­i­ty as a reward for sav­ing the life of a slave. The only catch is he can’t leave Man­hat­tan, or he’ll die”

So, no, it doesn’t appear sim­i­lar. But wow, where’d they get that title?!

Ah! The name is from the colony, which is still con­trolled by the British in the nov­el. What we call New York was found­ed by the Dutch, then tak­en by the British before the whole Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War thing 🙂