Saturday, March 5, 2011

Girl on Book Action: Whiskey and Water by Elizabeth Bear

Aside:  Since this is part two in I guess a duology I suggest you stop reading now if you are the sort to mind spoilers and haven’t read Blood and Iron (you can find my review of it here).  The back cover blurb will tell you some important details about what occurs in the first novel and I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you, dear readers.  If spoilers don’t bother you, or you’ve read the previous instalment, go right ahead and read on!

Whiskey and Water: A Novel of the Promethean Age by Elizabeth Bear
ISBN: 978-0-451-46248-0


Matthew the Magi followed Jane Andraste into Faerie to rescue her half-human daughter and destroy the Fae.  But when Matthew discovered Jane’s treachery, he betrayed her, and the Promethean armies fell.  Matthew lost his brother, his mentor, and his power.

Now Jane is recruiting a new army, and Matthew, the protector of New York City, discovers a young woman murdered by a beast almost certainly Fae.  To find the killer before Jane uses the crime to justify more war, Matthew must contend with Magi, Faerie, angels, and untamed forces of nature – and ultimately brave the greatest Adversary of all.


My Thoughts:

All the things I wrote about Blood and Iron hold true for this second instalment as well.  Whiskey and Water is a complex, layered work of fiction with multiple view-points, alliances and betrayals, three-dimensional characters and the merging of myth and what we consider the “real” world of New York City and Boston.  It’s the kind of book which doesn’t let you go once you get into it, you have to finish it as quickly as possible.  The story tugs you along and hurtles you headlong through the twists and turns, the shifting factions and allegiances until you get to the end, which feels less like an end and more like a short respite: time for you, and the characters, to catch your breath.

I think the only downside to this book was that much of it is told in Matthew’s voice and he isn’t one of my favourite characters.  His guilt and his often “woe is me” attitude just bother me.  Also, I prefer female protagonists despite my love for Romanticism and the predominance of dead, white men who wrote at that time.  Yes, yes I know, I’m a hypocrite and walking contradiction.

Anyway, Christopher (Kit) Marlowe more than made up for Matthew, and Morgan was a treat again.  The conflict between Lucifer, the other Devils (yes, there are multiple devils, one for each story) and Michael (the Archangel, a woman in this particular telling) was just one of the plots that made the narrative so gripping.  All of these characters are well-rendered and dynamic despite their archetypal natures.  Something else I admire about these novels is that Bear doesn’t hold back on killing people off.  People die, people get hurt, and they’re emotionally scarred by the events that surround them.  There is no pulling back, no flinching away from what the narrative needs and I appreciate that in a book.  I started to engage with a character and then I would grieve for their hurt, or their death. 

I know that I’m gushing a bit, but I really enjoyed this novel, and was surprised to enjoy it as much as the first one (I've mentioned the 2nd novel problem on the blog before so I won't go into it again in detail).  The interweaving of the modern world and mythology was well done again, too.  Seeing faeries and the kelpie and other creatures in the streets of New York is neat.  I don't have anything insightful to say about it, it's just plain good.  The way that Faerie, Heaven, Hell and the Iron world interact, the layers the realms create, is something special, something you don’t find in every book, especially not handled with such skilful precision.  Managing such a complex story is no easy task and Bear accomplishes it masterfully.

Overall, I put this novel at a cut above most urban fantasy I've read.  It'll have a place in my heart alongside Charles de Lint for sure.  While I feel a bit jaded toward the genre as a whole, these books are something different, something special.

Okay, enough gushing.  If you read Blood and Iron either on your own or based on my review and enjoyed it, I am sure you’ll also like this follow-up.  Whenever I get a handle on my to-read shelf and have some spare money I’ll likely pick up the other Promethean books.

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