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Review: New Amsterdam

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


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 🙂