Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Seven For A Secret

Seven for a Secret by Elizabeth Bear
A 2009 novella, and another one that made it on to my vote for the Hugo shortlist (although, again, not the actual shortlist). After dismissing so many works it feels nice to be able to be a lot more complimentary. Doubly for Elizabeth Bear, since none of her work really connected with me before. I could appreciate it, but always found some major aspect of the pace, story or backdrop unfulfilling, promising more than delivered. Here, I think the story is a much greater success. It features some variant of alternate universe where Nazi Germany (called the Prussian Empire) has conquered Britain, and is developing werewolves as bodyguards. The plot concerns one of these proto-werewolves and a vampire working against the regime. Better than it sounds based on the prior two sentences, it's an effective and fast-moving character piece that hits the right points.

For awhile I've felt that the format of urban fantasy is over-attached to modern times. If the point is juxtaposing realworld circumstances to a magical element, there's potential in moving beyond the present, exploring some alternate backdrop, help avoid the awful sameness of a lot of urban fantasy. World war two isn't in itself the most compelling but here it works effectively, with werewolves juxtaposed to the fascist obsession with racial purity making for some creepy parallels, some rather poignant ironies, and above all a compelling setup for the main plot. The actual story features the viewpoints of both a female student at one of the above werewolf squads and a long-lived moral vampire as they interact. The perspective of the student is more unique and compelling, in part because her own experiences are less familiar, but both elements work well and build to a point of surprising complexity and moral engagement.

It's not perfect, and to an extent is bogged down by following the less interesting character for a bit too long. Furthermore, for all the energy of the setup and satisfaction with the ending there are a number of key points with the interval that are too predictable. Overall, however, it's a nice piece of writing.

Better than: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Worse than: Purple and Black by K. J. Parker

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