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Freedom and Necessity by Steven Brust
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Freedom and Necessity (1997)

by Steven Brust, Emma Bull

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941189,255 (3.88)45
  1. 20
    Sorcery and Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede (puddleshark)
  2. 00
    Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (bjappleg8)
    bjappleg8: first person narrative; ambiguous supernatural elements; slow unravelling of a mystery in a historical British setting
  3. 01
    The Woman in White (Penguin Classics) by Wilkie Collins (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Both novels take place in Victorian England. They have convoluted plots, many surprises and a whiff of the occult. Although Freedom and Necessity was not a Victorian novel, it reads like one, complementing the style of Collins.
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» See also 45 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
I wanted to love this book. Emma Bull and Will Shetterly are amazing writers. However, the execution of the book did not live up to its promise. What should have been exciting and compelling fell flat. The epistolary format, which I was a bit wary of, wasn't the problem. The pace of the book was what killed it for me. The secrets that were uncovered and plots that were revealed were just not enough to keep the momentum going. There were also many fascinating ideas that were brought up and never addressed. The entire book feels like a missed opportunity for greatness. ( )
  ficmuse | Aug 22, 2016 |
England, 1849. A man is fished out of a lake, half-dead. His last memory is of falling into the water during a boating party - two months earlier.
What happened during that lost two months? And was there a plot afoot to do away with him? He goes underground, working as a hostler at a small inn, writing to his relative in order to try to find out what happened...

Emma Bull, particularly, is an author I very much enjoy and admire. However, this was the second time I've read this book (it was this month's selection for my book club), and I still just couldn't get into it.
It's written in the epistolary fashion - as a series of letters and journal entries, with the occasional newspaper article thrown in. A good deal of the time, the letters (written in pseudo-19th-century British style) are not even describing events, but are referencing OTHER letters, books, etc.
The effect is very distancing, and I found it impossible to achieve the "reading trance" or "flow state" that I very often experience while reading (and which is one of the best parts about reading!) through this book. This also means I read it very slowly - and it's a long book! (590 pgs.)

With some books, you end feeling that you know the characters intimately... in this one, you end feeling like you might have been pen-pals.

The characters (vivacious, blonde Kitty, who dabbles in mysticism, her husband Richard, the revolutionary and intense James, the spunky and unconventional Susan) are interesting, and many exciting elements are there: anti-government plots and counter plots, secret societies, occultism and sacrifice, cross-dressing, kidnapping, weapons smuggling, arson, violence, poison.... plus a healthy dash of romance.

However, throughout the book, I couldn't quite help feeling that really, not so much was at stake. I was at such a remove from the action that I didn't really care, emotionally.

Also, although advertised as a 'fantasy' (probably since it's from two authors known for fantasy), it's not. It's straight historical fiction, with no more of a hint of the supernatural than one would find in real life.

I can't say it's not an ambitious work - and well-done. The way in which one has to search through each letter for clues as to what is happening, and to find out exactly what each character knows, and when, can be an entertaining mental exercise. But personally, I prefer more of a feeling of immediacy to novels. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
This was a deftly handled, engaging adventure story, but I was mostly unimpressed by its attempts to engage seriously with its subject matter. Characters and plot were interesting enough for me to keep reading, but ultimately they were pretty lightweight and did not seem to belong in the same book as endless pages of philosophical and ethical navel-gazing. The villains in particular were just silly and their motivations too ridiculous for any sort of logical analysis, let alone Kitty and Richard's Hegelian epiphany. In regards to the villains, a word of advice to writers of historical fiction: do *not* attempt implausible feats of plotting by having your characters shrug away English inheritance laws. Every historical reader worth her weight in Penguin Classics paperbacks will call you on it.

The central place of the Chartist movement in this story also bothered me, because the main characters were, at the end of the day, still just four members of the gentry having adventures. The writers, to its credit, kept addressing this, but ultimately they didn't deal with it in the form of their novel, whose message was that only the wealthy possess the agency and inner complexity to be protagonists. James's appropriation of Irish identity was even more bothersome to me for the same reason - he gets to somehow be essentially Irish, dropping Irish-language words left and right, without suffering the prejudice that would come with Irish identity.

I feel that the authors chose these characters because for modern readers, the gentry are "us," socially mobile, possessing disposable incomes, and in the case of intellectuals like these four, possessing of modern ideas about gender roles, national identity, politics, and class identity. (The fact that they're old money and not new money is probably just thoughtless adherence to the form of the early Victorian novel. Newsflash - it's not the Victorian era anymore, we can write about everyone, and for that matter, Middlemarch was more inclusive than this book is.) People like James and Susan and Kitty and Richard of course existed in the 1840s, but I think to deal with class issues and then to select a troupe of privileged American-style liberals as your protagonists is profoundly unimaginative.

For all this criticism, this book really only lost my sympathy near the end, where they had one of our protagonists get knocked up after two weeks of sexual activity and IMMEDIATELY start experiencing morning sickness making her CERTAIN that she is pregnant. I mean REALLY? After so much relatively well-researched plotting, I simply had no words. Well, no, I had plenty of words, as my boyfriend will attest (he had the misfortune of sitting next to me while I was reading).

To give the authors credit, this was an impressively plotted and well-written novel. It just did not do it for me as far as historical fiction goes. I think I am going to avoid epistolary novels with two authors for a while, in my experience they tend to be self-indulgent. ( )
2 vote raschneid | Mar 31, 2013 |
This is historical fiction being sold as fantasy. Its not a bad thing, but I think it will be disappointing to those looking for magic.

This book is difficult to read. Its told through letters by four different people along with newspaper clippings and other writings. Its written in the style of Victorian language. Very formal with dated vocabulary. Keep a dictionary by your side!

But, it was well worth the difficulty. All four characters are interesting and the setting this story is set in is very real (it should be, its based on true history). What makes it all the more amazing is that the happenings are only described through letters.

What makes this book extra twisty, you only have letters, the story gets out of sync, while a letter arrives a few days later, but in between, a second letter went out to a different person, describing different events. Its totally confusing and required my entire attention to follow.

The story itself is very interesting. I don't know the history of England very well, and the Chartist Movement is quite intriguing - its the story of the working man taking power away from the Rich and Titled. Its also the story of a secret society who believes power can be created. The two story lines weave in and out, naturally. It leaves a reader guessing to why events are happening.

The ending is also quite satisfactory. Generally, I find things to be too tidy or too messy. This ending was perfect for the story.

So, to sum it up, a difficult book to read. But worth the effort. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Jul 13, 2012 |
I thought this book was a fantasy when I picked it up. I’m not familiar with Brust, but I’ve read Bull’s ‘War for the Oaks’ and it was certainly fantasy. Also, the excerpted line on the back of the book says “Have with you, at all times, iron that cuts, polished silver, a sprig of mistletoe, and a loaded pistol”. That sounds like magic. The cover also mentions occult societies and a protagonist who comes to his senses with two months missing from his memory and finds that he is presumed drowned.

It turns out that the book is historical fiction, set in 1849 England. There is an occult society, but they work no magic. Many plots abound, however- it takes the protagonists a very long time to get them all sorted out. A really long time- the book unfolds very, very slowly. It’s told via a series of letters from various protagonists to each other and by journal entries. This makes it seem to move even slower- the element of immediacy is missing by using this method of telling. It *does* give it the feeling of a Victorian novel.

The protagonists are generally likable, the setting is well detailed, and the plot makes sense. But, as I’ve said, it’s a very slow book and it wasn’t what I expected from the cover. ( )
2 vote lauriebrown54 | Dec 27, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Steven Brustprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bull, Emmamain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
When the content of the interest in which one is absorbed is drawn out of its immediate unity with oneself and becomes an independent object of one's thinking, then it is that spirit begins to be free, whereas when thinking is an instinctive activity, spirit is enmeshed in the bonds of its categories and is broken up into an infinitely varied material . . . because spirit is essentially consciousness, this self-knowing is a fundamental determination of its actuality . . . the loftier business of logic therefore is to clarify these categories and in them to raise mind to freedom and truth.
--Hegel, The Science of Logic
Dedication
Dedicated to Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who is probably the ideal reader for this book.
First words
From The Times, July 26, 1849: Mr. Roebuck also begged to enter his protest against this ill-considered and crude piece of legislation, which he described as the result of a species of cant which was almost as dangerous as vice.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812562615, Paperback)

The early 19th century was a heady time of repeated challenges to the assumption that the social order as it stood was supernaturally (divinely) ordained. A particularly sticky web of politics and romance traps Susan Voight and James Cobham in a dense, thrillingly suspenseful plot connecting a reforming democratic labor movement, Chartism, to a secret society, the Trotters Club, whose corrupt members intend to exploit a magical ritual for their personal, complicated purposes of vengeance and power. Layers of truths and falsehoods mislead and confound the protagonists in their dealings with each other and the conspiracies; they come to understand that only honesty can save them. Although the perversion of the natural power of sorcery fails because it is unnatural, the social order, unnatural or not, is more resistant to justice. The swift pace, surprising developments, and appealing characters make it nearly impossible to put this book down. Though the women's rights movement is glancingly acknowledged, the conventionally romantic fulfillment is a little disappointing. Is there no other end for intelligent, financially independent women than maternity and love-partnership (as binding, or more, as legal marriage) with a man?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:49 -0400)

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