The White City
by Elizabeth Bear
Review by Mario Guslandi
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596063235
Date: 31 December 2010 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
An undead detective, Sebastian de Ulloa, a “forensic” sorceress, Lady Abigail Irene ,and a writer ,Phoebe Smith , form a team aimed to solve the mystery behind a series of murders taking place in Moscow between 1897 and 1903.
A cross between a vampire novella, a piece of historical fiction and an offbeat detective story The White City provides almost two hundred pages of excellent storytelling, splendid characterization and gorgeous, atmospheric prose.
For those already acquainted with the characters first introduced in Bear’s novel New Amsterdam the present novella represents the welcome, eagerly awaited return of some uncommonly convincing brainchildren of that gifted author.
In fact, the gripping plot is not the only reason of enjoyment for the reader. The loneliness of the immortal vampire, compared with the limited life span of his temporary travel companions is described with a steady hand and a perceptive touch. Lovers come and go, humans die, the world changes but the undead survives all changes, with a trace of melancholy tainting his apparent aloofness.
This aspect of the vampire condition casts a subtler, intimate shade on the character of the undead which goes beyond the shallow clichés too often provided by horror fiction. In this respect Bear’s work shares a similar sensitivity with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Count Saint Germain.
Although Sebastien has assembled a court of followers and although vampires seem to be somehow part of a community of blood suckers, he’s no less lonely than Saint Germain. Both observe the history of mankind with the knowledge that everything (and everyone else ) will eventually disappear while years and centuries pass endlessly.
Meanwhile the vampire is condemned to satisfy his perennial thirst for blood, to mingle with mortal individuals knowing in advance that his friends and lovers will turn into dust before too long.
Two worlds (that of the living and of the undead) get in touch, collide, like two poles attracted and repulsed by each other. The result , in the hands of a writer like Bear, is emotion , curiosity and intrigue, as only great fiction can elicit.