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Freedom and Necessity (1997)

by Steven Brust, Emma Bull

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1,0202014,394 (3.93)53
It is 1849. Across Europe, the high tide of revolution has crested, leaving recrimination and betrayal in its wake. From the high councils of Prussia to the corridors of Parliament, the powers-that-be breathe sighs of relief. But the powers-that-be are hardly unified among themselves. Far from it . . . On the south coast of England, London man-about-town James Cobham comes to himself in a country inn, with no idea how he got there. Corresponding with his brother, he discovers he has been presumed drowned in a boating accident. Together they decide that he should stay put for the moment, while they investigate what may have transpired. For James Cobham is a wanted man--wanted by conspiring factions of the government and the Chartists alike, and also targeted by a magical conspiracy inside his own family. And so the adventure ofFreedom and Necessity begins... leading the reader through every corner of mid-nineteenth-century Britain, from the parlors of the elite to the dens of the underclass. Steven Brust and Emma Bull have crafted a masterful mix of fantasy and historical fiction. Not since Wilkie Collins or Conan Doyle has there been such a profusion of guns, swordfights, family intrigues, women disguised as men, occult societies, philosophical discussions, and, of course, passionate romance.… (more)
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» See also 53 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
Oh my GOD I love this book. Okay, don't be fooled by the cover or the title: this is not, in fact, a horribly boring nonfiction book about some crappy European war. It's actually a super interesting, super thrilling, super FANTASTIC historical fiction book with a smidgen of fantasy!

I'm actually a really big fan of Emma Bull; I've previously read War For the Oaks and loved it, and so I was hoping to at least like Freedom and Necessity. I was initially a little put off by the package, but I had high hopes that it'd be really good on the inside. And it was! From the very first page it was interesting and funny and thrilling and though it took a big of work to get through it-- it's long-- I can safely say that this is one of my favorite books I've read this year.

Okay, so what did I love best? Oh, merely everything. I love the characters, I love the writing, I love the time period and the setting and the plot. It does take a bit of getting used to the format-- everything's told through diary entries and letters and telegrams-- but it actually makes for good "bites", kind of like mini chapters?

Some elaboration: I thought the four main characters were a really good mix of personalities and types, and they meshed really well together. Even when they're annoyed at one another, you can still tell how much they love each other and what a good family they are. Er, though it was a bit weird when they started have romances with each other, but since they're all cousins it's not as weird...maybe.

I did think the romance between Susan and James was a bit forced, though maybe that was because I thought James was gay because of something he did early on in the book (I must have just misinterpreted it). And once I got used to the idea I did think they were quite sweet, and their happy ending made me happy in return. Kitty and Richard were less of a struggle for me, and I thought they made an adorable couple as well.

Speaking of Susan: I really liked her! I thought she was really refreshing, and though maybe she's a bit of an unusual person for the time period, I think she would have fit right in with, say, Emma Goldman's circle. She's fierce and tough and I love how she refuses to get married even when she's in love because she wants to stick to her beliefs. She's such a great character, and I wish she could be my friend.

Anyway, there actually isn't much by the way of fantasy in Freedom and Necessity, and when it does spring up it can almost be taken as not being magic, but instead just some weird cult thing. Instead, the book is more about political intrigue and big thrilling scenes (lots of sword fights and things, very exciting) and trying to solve the mystery and so on. It's all terribly exciting, even with German philosophers running around the narrative.

So, in conclusion: yay! Love this book! SO. MUCH.

If you like historical fiction, or historical fantasy, or both, get this book. And then we can talk about it together! Eee! ( )
  doctorsidrat | Dec 9, 2018 |
A thick book, with small type, and incredibly dense prose. It took me a while to get into the story and I never really got into the Hegel, but I did really like the characters - especially the less philosophical, more practical women: Kitty was just lovely and bubbly and sweet, while I could really identify with Susan's reserve. The family tree at the front was handy as I kept referring back to it throught....

Not sure if I was imagining the set-up at the end for a potential sequel; none seems to have eventuated either way. ( )
  zeborah | Oct 9, 2018 |
It's 1849, the place is England, and James Cobham is dead. He was seen to drown, although his body was never recovered. Except that two months later, his cousin Richard receives a letter from James, who's working as an hostler at an inn and doesn't remember the past two months. The story unfolds in the letters and journal entries of Richard, James, Kitty, Susan, and assorted other connections, further enlivened by the fact that nobody is telling anybody everything. As the four principles gradually pick apart the threads of the several competing conspiracies with various political, personal, and financial motivations, life becomes ever more exciting, more exciting than any of them wanted it to be.

It should be noted, I think, that no one finding this book cold in the general fiction section of a more mainstream bookstore, or in the library without a little sticker indicating "fantasy", would ever identify this as anything other than a straight historical novel. Nothing unambiguously fantastical ever happens in it; even the ambiguous things are not especially prominent. This is a very good, complex, literate historical novel, getting an sf readership because of its authors and its marketing. Highly recommended. ( )
  LisCarey | Sep 19, 2018 |
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. ( )
  jencharlap | 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 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Brust, Stevenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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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It is 1849. Across Europe, the high tide of revolution has crested, leaving recrimination and betrayal in its wake. From the high councils of Prussia to the corridors of Parliament, the powers-that-be breathe sighs of relief. But the powers-that-be are hardly unified among themselves. Far from it . . . On the south coast of England, London man-about-town James Cobham comes to himself in a country inn, with no idea how he got there. Corresponding with his brother, he discovers he has been presumed drowned in a boating accident. Together they decide that he should stay put for the moment, while they investigate what may have transpired. For James Cobham is a wanted man--wanted by conspiring factions of the government and the Chartists alike, and also targeted by a magical conspiracy inside his own family. And so the adventure ofFreedom and Necessity begins... leading the reader through every corner of mid-nineteenth-century Britain, from the parlors of the elite to the dens of the underclass. Steven Brust and Emma Bull have crafted a masterful mix of fantasy and historical fiction. Not since Wilkie Collins or Conan Doyle has there been such a profusion of guns, swordfights, family intrigues, women disguised as men, occult societies, philosophical discussions, and, of course, passionate romance.

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