Elizabeth Bear

Books: Fantasy | LGBT

The Promethean Age: Blood and Iron (2006), Whiskey and Water (2007), Hell and Earth (2008), Ink and Steel (2008)

Abby Irene: New Amsterdam (2007), Seven for a Secret (2009), The White City (2010), Garrett Investigates (2012)


By Blood We Live (2009), Naked City (2011), Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations (2013), Queen Victoria's Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy (2013), Magic City: Recent Spells (2014), Street Magicks (2016)

The Promethean Age

Blood and Iron (2006)

I put off reading Blood and Iron because I haven't been in the mood for epic fantasy. But I added it to the pile of books I took on my trip, and picked it up when nothing else seemed to suit.

First of all, Blood and Iron is set both on the modern realm and in the world of Faerie. Elaine is half fey, and is now the Seeker for the Daoine Sidhe. Matthew Magus is a mage for the Promethean Society, a group seeking to eradicate Faerie. And everyone is searching for the new Merlin.

This is a complex tale with a wide variety of multi-faceted characters. What I liked most is that there are no villains in this tale–only different sides with different conflicting desires.

Although Elaine is one of the main characters, she is also one of the most conflicted and one who's choices are often hardest to understand.

Strangely, as much as I enjoyed this book, I'm finding it difficult to write a review. The story ranged all over and was full of supernatural characters and every side had their own take on events and what the goals and desires were.

Published by ROC

Rating: 8/10

Abby Irene

New Amsterdam (2007)

Imagine North America where there was never a Revolutionary War against the British. Where England and France and Spain control North American colonies. France controls Canada and Louisiana. Spain controls the West Coast. And England still controls the original colonies.

It's 1899. Magic and technology exist together. Despite the tensions between France and England, Zeppelins cross the Atlantic ocean, carrying passengers and colonists from the Old World to the New. Necromancers and sorcerers and vampires exist along with electricity and telegraphs.

Don Sebastian de Ulloa–the great detective–is leaving the Continent to move to the New World–leaving the Old World and his circle of friends for a new life. He brings with him his protege, Jack Priest. As they travel, the disappearance of one of the passengers–from a zeppelin over the Atlantic–calls for the skills and experience of Don Sebastian.

Abagail Irene Garrett is Detective Crown Inspector for New Amsterdam–what we would consider New York. She answers only to the Crown in England and the Duke of New Amsterdam–although she must work with the mayor and his inspectors.

New Amsterdam is written as a series of interrelated short stories. The first several stories could be read independently from each other, however, although the later parts of the book were also written as short stories, those stories build upon the earlier tales. So although there are complete story arcs for each of the tales, each story brings up new questions, and not all questions are resolved. Additionally, although the arcs for each story are completed, there were multiple unresolved plot points when the book ends.

The start of the book was extremely well done. We are meet Sebastian and the other characters on the zeppelin, and learn about him as we learn about the world in which he lives. I thought this introduction was very well done and enjoyable.

The zeppelin Hans Glucker left Calais at 9:15 in the evening on a cold night in March, 1899, bound for New Amsterdam, the Jewel of British North America. Don Sebastian de Ulloa, known to the Continent as the great detective, passed his departure on the promenade, watching the city lights recede through blurring isinglass. He amused himself by taking inventory of his fellow passengers while enjoying the aroma of a fairly good cognac.

I loved the setting. I am particularly fond (for no known reason) of stories set in the 18th and 19th century. Although the world is not quite as we know it, it is familiar enough that (assuming you are comfortable with fantasy and alternate realities) it takes little adjustment to become comfortable in Sebastian's world. And that setting is both vivid and enjoyable.

I also loved the mingling of magic and technology–especially the idea that the electric grid in Paris was built upon the plans and ideas of Doctor Tesla. I'd only recently learned that Tesla was trying to build a wireless electricity system (which made Tesla's portrayal and part in "The Prestige" even more fascinating).

Both the primary and secondary characters were well done. Even the secondary characters had distinct personalities, and when Sebastian changes names, we're still able to keep things straight.

About the only thing I didn't enjoy about New Amsterdam was that the ending left many questions unanswered–questions that will most likely be answered in a sequel. But that's one of my particular quirks, and most normal people won't be bothered by the ending.

If you enjoy historical mysteries, such as those written by Bruce Alexander and Kate Ross, and enjoy historical-type fantasies, such as those written by Ellen Kushner, Steven Brust, and Sean Russell, then I highly recommend New Amsterdam.

Published by Subterranean Press

Rating: 9/10

Seven for a Secret (2009)

I made a mistake about a year ago. I signed up for Subterranean Press‘s e-mail news letter. Why was this a mistake? Because they're publishing an awful lot of fantasy that I want to own.

My most recent arrival was Elizabeth Bear's Seven for a Secret. Although Abagail Irene appears in Seven for a Secret, the main character returning from New Amsterdam is Sebastian. We get a bit of Abby Irene, but she's now in her 80s, so it's mostly Sebastian, and two new characters we meet, teens who are part of the Prussian Chancellor's army.

Prussia is in control of England, the English prince is hiding out in the Americas, and Abby Irene has been allowed to return to England at the end of her life. There, she, Sebastian, and others are trying to find ways to overturn the Prussian government in England.

It was depressing to see Abby Irene so old and infirm–remember that it's the early 20th century, so 80 is quite old–but she has few regrets, and Sebastian still loves her, despite her aging. This is actually a fascinating story, because although books with vampires often have them talking about watching their friends and loved ones grow old and die, in the books their companions are always young and beautiful. It's one thing to have a character lament the again and death of their friends. It's something else entirely to have that character interacting with their loved ones who are approaching the ends of their lives.

Even if you have not read New Amsterdam, you should be fine reading Seven for a Secret. Some characters carry over, but Abby Irene plays only a small part, and the two teens take on a larger and larger role as the story progresses. However, if you think you'd like to read New Amsterdam, you may want to hold off reading Seven for a Secret, since it gives away some of the plot of New Amsterdam.

Published by Subterranean Press

Rating: 8/10

The White City (2010)

Abigail Irene, Sebastian,and Phoebe have traveled to Moscow, as they attempt to get over their loss of Jack. However, Sebastian spent time here with Jack, before he met Irene and Phoebe, and his memories of the place include Jack.

And murder–past and present–inserts itself into their lives, both causing problems and distracting them.

I like these stories. I like that Abby Irene is a solid middle aged woman–witch actually–with no desired for immortality despite the fact that Sebastian could give it to her.

I also like the world where magic and the supernatural exist yet the course of history trundles on, different from our history, yet it some ways, the same.

The White City shifts chapter by chapter between the past and the present. Sebastian remembers his time in the city with Jack while Abby Irene helps to investigate the murder in which they find themselves enmeshed. Sometimes I'm annoyed by stories that skip back and forth in time, but in this novella it worked well, and I had a hard time putting the story down, when each chapter left me wanting to find out what happened next.

Published by Subterranean Press

Rating: 8/10

Garrett Investigates (2012)

Five short Abby Irene short stories, covering most of her career, from 1897 to 1941.

The first story, "The Tricks of London" has her investigating the return of Spring-Heeled Jack. Although the story set from the point-of-view of the Detective Sergeant Sean Cuan, we get to see Abby Irene early in her career as she struggles with being the only female DCI (Detective Crown Investigator) of the Enchancery.

"The Body of the Nation" is set in New Amsterdam, and has Abby Irene investigating a murder upon a riverboat. The fact she comes across a riverboat pilot named Clemens. (I very much like what she did with Clemens here.)

"Almost True" is also set in New Amsterdam, and it tells of a weekend party gone wrong. Elizabeth Bear says this is the first Abby Irene story she wrote, so she isn't as well-developed as later stories, but it's a nice look at a part of her life I hadn't read.

The story "Underground" doesn't actually feature Abby Irene, but instead is of Mary's work in the Underground during the Great War. Because this is an alternate history, The Great War occurred later than in our time line, and stretched to 1941. It also looks at how supernaturals would function in a war.

The last story, "Twilight" picks up somewhat where "Underground" left off, and we see Abby Irene at the end of her life. She has returned to London, but has still not been forgiven all her actions in New Amsterdam.

A lovely set of stories, and I didn't even mind that "Underground" didn't have Abby Irene in it.

Published by Subterranean Press

Rating: 8/10


Naked City (2011) edited by Ellen Datlow

This collection of urban fantasy stories has several of my favorite authors, so it was a no-brainer to get. The bad thing is that I've been reading this collection for several months, so I now have no idea what the stories at the start of the anthology were about, which is dangerous, because it means I may end up accidentally rereading several of them.

The last story in the anthology is Elizabeth Bear's "King Pole, Gallows Pole, Bottle Tree." It's a story of Las Vegas and memory and magic. It's also extremely good.

Although there were several stories I didn't care for, I believe that was more a matter of personal taste than quality. And the stories I did like, I liked very much.

Published by St. Martin's Griffin

Rating: 8/10

Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations (2013) edited by Paula Guran

weird-detectives-recent-investigationsThis is a collection of short stories previously published elsewhere, so I'd already read several of these stories. But there were several I had not, and several of the ones I'd read before were well worth reading again.

This book has been sitting around for awhile, waiting to be read, primarily because I got it in trade paperback, and it's huge and heavy–just the kind of book I hate reading. Too heavy and too bulky for comfortable reading. But the stories drew me in and didn't let me go. (Though the book itself was why I lacked patience for stories I'd recently read or didn't catch my interest immediately.)

Initially, I was just going to flip through and read stories by authors I love, but then I ended up just reading straight through. Having no patience, if I story didn't immediately grab hold, I didn't finish it, and if I hadn't thoroughly enjoyed it the first time (or had read the story very recently), I didn't give it a second read.

"Cryptic Coloration" by Elizabeth Bear was an odd story, though it was surprisingly dark and depressing. It did have amusing bits, however, was the story that started me reading straight through instead of reading only authors I particularly like. It's about both a mage hiding in plain sight as an English professor, and three bored young girls who really should have something better to do than moon after their English professor.

As I said, this contained a lot of stories I'd read previously, but they are for the most part good stories, so if you don't have the original anthologies, this would be well worth getting.

Rating: 8/10 

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy (2013) edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling


I love anthologies and I love historical fiction. So this should have been an automatic win for me.

Instead it was a two-plus year slog that I finally forced myself to finish.

The Governess by Elizabeth Bear. This is an interesting twist on a fairy tale with which I am familiar.

The B____ children are named Charity, Constance, and Simon. Girls are expected to embody virtues, but boys may be themselves.

Published by Tor

Magic City: Recent Spells (2014) edited by Paula Guran


"The Slaughtered Lamb" by Elizabeth Bear was a fun story, of a queen trying to make it in a magical world.

All in all this is a marvelous collection, that I highly recommend.

Published by Prime Books

Rating: 8.5/10

Street Magicks (2016) edited by Paula Guran

Street MagicksI believe it took me less than a year to finish this anthology. Hopefully this is a new trend for me.

"One-Eyed Jack and the Suicide King" by Elizabeth Bear this one I read twice and still was unsure about.

An interesting collection, although there were a lot of stories that were not for me.

Published by Prime Books

Rating: 7/10