Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Liz Gorinsky, and David G. Hartwell are fiction editors of Tor.com.
The White Cityby Elizabeth Bear
In the wake of political success and personal loss, the immortal detective Don Sebastien de Ulloa has come to
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For centuries, the White City has graced the banks of the Moskva River. But in the early years of a twentieth century not quite analogous to our own, a creature even more ancient than Moscow’s fortress heart has entered its medieval walls.
In the wake of political success and personal loss, the immortal detective Don Sebastien de Ulloa has come to Moscow to choose his path amid the embers of war between England and her American colonies. Accompanied by his court—the forensic sorcerer Lady Abigail Irene and the authoress Phoebe Smith—he seeks nothing but healing and rest.
But Moscow is both jeweled and corrupt, and when you are old there is no place free of ghosts, and Sebastien is far from the most ancient thing in Russia....
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This is the third book published in Bear's New Amsterdam series; it is the second in chronological order; and while it's helpful to have the background from the previous books, it isn't strictly necessary. Like Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey novels, the characters grow over the course of the series, but each book has a stand-alone mystery that is the focus of its primary plot. Also like the Wimsey novels, the mysteries are completely fair and not terribly twisty, but they aren't the reason I can picture myself reading and rereading and rereading them over again. No, the reason I can read both Sayers' detective series and Bear's detective series over and over again is twofold: first, they both feature complex main characters (plural, not just the lead detective) that I ache for; second, they both give me tantalizing glimpses of very complex worlds. In Bear's case, it's a paranormal steampunk world, where forensic sorcerors are turn-of-the-20th century CSIs and vampires are marginal members of most societies (but outlawed entirely in the American colonies). It's also a world where blissfully happy endings may exist. . . but they happen to other people. On her livejournal, Bear said something, somewhere (my google-fu is weak today) about not being interested in the explosions (in other words, the what) but instead being mostly interested, as a writer, in the moment of choice (in other words, the why). It was an apt summation of this novella, and of all the others in this series. There is a mystery -- two, actually, in two separate timelines that come together at the end -- but the book (and this reader) is not primarily concerned with solving it, because there's really only only one possible suspect, and means & motive are crystal-clear. What this book is concerned with is the seemingly central (yet sadly underexplored) question of existence as a vampire (or any other immortal): how do you choose to keep living, when everything and everyone you love is constantly leaving you behind? Appropriately, this novella shows two very different coping mechanisms, and implies that there are as many more as there are immortals. Many of Bear's stories are about aging; it's one of the things I respond to in her writing. I was more affected by the way she handled it in the last New Amsterdam novella, Seven for a Secret; but that may just be because I care far more for Abby Irene than for Jack Priest, rather than being any indication of the relative quality of the works. Still, I can't quite recommend this one quite as unreservedly; I think the original collection of New Amsterdam stories (titled, obviously, New Amsterdam) is the best entry point to this world, and this novella is a further exploration aimed more at long-time fans.