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The White City by Elizabeth Bear
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1393127,517 (3.89)17
Member:matociquala
Title:The White City
Authors:Elizabeth Bear
Info:Subterranean (2010), Edition: Deluxe Hardcover Edition, Hardcover, 192 pages
Collections:Your library
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The White City by Elizabeth Bear

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Rating: 4* of five

The Book Description: 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....

My Review: Longer is not, in my world, automatically better. In this case, however, it makes me quite happy to have more to work with, more to savor, more to carefully and slowly bring into my aching-with-desire storyplace.

Oh my, I think I need to get laid.

Well, never mind all that, this almost-novel (nigh on 200pp!) is another enjoyable installment in Bear's wampyr-alternative-history series begun with New Amsterdam. It's set after the first story collection, and tells alternating yet connected tales of Sebastien de Ulloa's adventures in the Moscow of 1897 and 1903. I suspect, in fact, that it's actually two oversized short stories that were asked to marry by their progenitor. In alternating chapters, Bear shows us Sebastien alone with Jack, his dead love, and then with his court, the two women who loved Jack with him, Abby Irene and Phoebe, as they pursue a very oddly similar set of killings connected to a wampyr older than Sebastian's thousand-plus years.

The alternative Moscow is alternative even to Bear's built world. In this Russia, the tsaritsa, a practicing sorceress, was rebelled against and assassinated in the 18th century, so sorcery is Frowned Upon. This makes forensic sorceress Abby Irene surprisingly unfree to use her skills to solve the 1903 crime she's charged with assisting to investigate. In the end, of course, all comes out on the side of Justice.

But isn't it surprising how often justice and happiness are mutually exclusive?

I keep reading these books, despite so many warning signs of tropes I dislike intensely, because I am both moved and oddly comforted by Justice (even absent happiness). I am also, in these stories, treated to a profoundly unnerving and instructive experience of alienness. Sebastien is over a thousand years old. He lives on human blood. He is Other in Capital Letters. And I feel, on a gut level, that Otherness. It's quite a trick that Bear pulls. She's as human as I am, and a good deal younger than me, too. (Bitch.) Somehow her imagination has led her into such a dark and isolated part of the woods that she can make me, a not-inexperienced reader, fully buy in to her creation of this wildly different being, Don Sebastien.

And in this story, millennium-old Sebastien meets his future in an even more ancient wampyr called Starkad. How odd for one used to being the oldest thing in the room to meet someone who views one in the same light as humans view kittens. It adds another level to a character whose agelessness could become changelessness and therefore stasis...death in series fiction.

Bear, to my complete lack of surprise, is up to the challenge of layering even the most difficult characters. I hope you'll work these books onto your TBR lists. It's like giving yourself a pearl necklace...a sign you've decided to take yourself seriously as a grown-up. ( )
6 vote richardderus | Oct 9, 2012 |
In a loose sequel to Bear’s alternate history-cum-mystery “New Amsterdam,” we are taken from the New World into the depths of the old. Immortal vampire detective Don Sebastien de Ulloa seeks rest and healing, both for himself and for the human members of his court, the inimitable forensic sorceress Lady Abigail Irene and the lady author, Phoebe Smith. The trio travel to the depths of Russia, to the White City of Moscow…a place Don Sebastien has not visited in many years. While he seeks respite, what he finds is only more death. Visiting an old friend, he finds instead a cooling corpse and no trace of the lady he seeks. A mystery he thought was done and gone has re-emerged from hiding, embroiling Don Sebastien and his court in the dangerous jealousies and ancient rivalries of Moscow’s vampire community.

The mystery here is hardly the point. While the motivations are realistic and the crimes dramatic, what readers will find most fascinating are Bear’s characters: the ascerbic Abigail Irene, the unprepossessing Phoebe Smith hiding unexpected depths behind her smile, and, most of all, the ancient, conflicted, and decidedly post-human Don Sebastien. Bear’s vampires definitely do not sparkle, but they captivate nonetheless. ( )
1 vote kmaziarz | Oct 6, 2011 |
Overall Satisfaction: ★★★★1/2
Intellectual Satisfaction: ★★★★
Emotional Satisfaction: ★★★★1/2
Read this for: The world-building, the themes
Don't read this for: The mystery
Books I was reminded of: Wild Seed, by Octavia E. Butler; Remake, by Connie Willis
Will I read more by this author? Yes

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. . .

Read the rest of the spoiler-free review here. ( )
1 vote PhoenixFalls | Mar 2, 2011 |
Showing 3 of 3
Strangely enough, the narrative here seems somehow flat, uninvolved. Bear may be the victim of her own success: it’s unfair to expect an author to consistently maintain the level she’s achieved in Dust, The Stratford Man, or By the Mountain Bound, and yet we do. And this one doesn’t.

Which is not to say there’s anything wrong with it. . .
 
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Book description
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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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...… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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