Review: New Amsterdam

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 sorcerer, 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.

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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4 thoughts on “Review: New Amsterdam

  1. 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?

  2. 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?!

  3. 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 🙂

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