Elizabeth Bear,
Whiskey & Water
(Roc, 2007)

The Prometheus Club is being rebuilt slowly after having been all but destroyed seven years ago in a historic battle between them and Faerie. A narrow truce has been maintained. Matthew Szczegielniak, a.k.a. Matthew Magus, is protective of his city, New York, but is lacking both his former will and power to run it effectively. However, when he discovers the dead body of a young woman murdered by a Fae creature, once more he becomes involved in the links between Faerie and the Prometheus Club, an organisation that has worked for hundreds of years to destroy Faerie for good. Will the Prometheus Club use this death to restart the age-old war?

It's not going to be an easy week for Matthew.

Elizabeth Bear has returned to the world of Faerie and New York City that she created in Blood & Iron, the first novel of the Promethean Age. It's seven years later, and whilst some things have remained the same, many changes have occurred. Bear's challenge is to pick up the pieces, maintain the continuity from the first book and make sure new readers understand her inventions. Interspersed with chapter titles from songs and references from literature and traditional ballads scattered throughout the novel, Bear succeeds in crafting a rich world in which Faerie is to be feared, yet humans neither are necessarily what they appear to be -- and Christopher Marlowe didn't die. Not really.

Young Julia, friend of the murdered young woman, has longed to travel to Faerie all of her life. Despite Matthew's warnings, she still wants to experience it for herself. Matthew, an English professor in New York City, worrying about the rebirth of the Promethean Society, winds up travelling back into Faerie, along with Merlin (currently female, black, bisexual and a professor at the University of Connecticut). After seven years, the former Elaine Andrastre, changeling child raised by the Promethean Society's leader, Jane Andraste, is still Queen of the Daoine Sindhe, after having usurped the throne from her son, Ian, whose father was sent to Hell seven years ago. Tam Lin, anyone? Of course, there's Thomas the Rhymer also. After all, Kit Marlowe, upon leaving Hell himself, gives away only the name "Thomas" to those initially inquiring about his identity.

This book is complicated. It's not an undemanding, relaxing read. There are a number of characters to keep track of, and scenes change quickly. However, it's also a book that I couldn't put down, with a world in which I found myself easily enthralled and enchanted, not necessarily by Faerie, but by Bear's poetic expression and knife-sharp narrative. Good and evil are not defined simply; the edges are blurred. However, even more so than Blood & Iron, Bear's characters are defined clearly and are easier with which to identify. She's already introduced many of her characters; now, she merely needs to re-acquaint readers with them. More attention can be paid to newer characters and to the overall development of them all. Her narration is much more omniscient this time around, assisting the reader in keeping track of the various plotlines and how they combine and twist about each other.

Interestingly, this second book of the Promethean Age is set after the infamous deeds of 11 September 2001. However, they are referenced only once, just briefly, as yet another attack on New York City that Matthew couldn't prevent nor stop. The War with Faerie holds more attraction to the denizens of this novel, with tourists stopping to photograph where the dragon landed in Times Square during that battle. Perhaps in this New York, tourists don't flock to Ground Zero as much as they do in our world. For some reason, I find the War with Faerie both more comforting and more terrifying.

review by
Ellen Rawson

9 June 2007

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