Elizabeth Bear,
Seven for a Secret
(Subterranean Press, 2009)

I didn't have the good fortune to read New Amsterdam, Elizabeth Bear's previous novel set on an alternate Earth where the British colonization of the New World was successfully hindered by a French and Native alliance. Fortunately, I didn't need to, as the sequel Seven for a Secret stands nicely on its own.

In fact, this exciting, short novel is pregnant with hidden backstory, and I wondered often as I read if the questions were all answered before, or if Bear was purposely leaving intriguing gaps in her narrative to lure me back for the next in the series. Either way, Seven for a Secret is a fascinating read.

It's 1938, and the Germans -- now known, as they were in the past, as Prussians -- have already conquered England and solidified their control over the once-proud nation. The wampyr sometimes called Sebastien is in London with the Lady Abigail Irene Garrett, a detective, sorceress and Sebastien's aging lover, so she may die where she once lived. There, he discovers a plot by the Prussians to conjure up the lost power to create werewolves to make an unstoppable force of elite beserker soldiers. A small group of young women are the test subjects in the experiment -- and Sebastien can't let it succeed.

The novel's tone is dark and moody, more about stealthy and strategic moves than it is the occasional burst of supernatural action. Bear has crafted an atmosphere of layered mystery and dread in which the wampyr is more hero than monster. The supporting characters, including a pair of budding lycanthropes Sebastien meets in a damp alley early in the book, are developed as fully and interestingly as the central figure. These are people whose stories I want to know better.

I trust Bear will indulge me with more very soon.

review by
Tom Knapp

15 November 2008

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