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Review: The White City by Elizabeth Bear

>>Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Title: The White City
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Format: ARC
Pages: 189
Genre: Alternate-History, Fantasy, Mystery
Publication Date: December 31, 2010
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Rating: C+

From Amazon: 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...

This novella takes place in Bear's New Amsterdam world. I haven't read this author or that collection yet, so this is doubly new to me. This is published after New Amsterdam, and although I didn't find it confusing, it might be better to read its predecessor first.

Bear has created a unique and intriguing world, taking place at the turn of the 20th century. In this world, there exist vampires, one of which is Don Sebastien de Ulloa. Each vampire has a court where mortals are chosen to become companions to these vampires. Members of the court wear rings that contain a signature gem of the vampire to show their allegiance. This society is lightly touched on, probably more has been revealed in the previous collection, New Amsterdam. I would have liked to have seen more about this world and how it works.

Primarily, this novella is about a mystery. The story is divided into two times, 1897 and 1903, and two murders that are somehow connected. The mystery aspect of this story is very prominent, giving room for little else. I thought the mystery was good and kept me turning the page, however, there was no mind-blowing reveal that I had hoped for. I felt like it flowed nicely but there was never any intensity or sense of danger for any of the characters.

What was the most enjoyable about The White City was the setting: Moscow. Bear deftly created an animated and lively setting, poised for revolution. Another was the character Doctor Abigail Irene Garrett, the forensic sorcerer. She uses her mystical abilities to discover evidence of a crime, such as scanning the aura of an object to see who has come into contact with it. I found it very entertaining and original, but alas, she did not feature as big a part as I would have liked.

Overall, I found Bear's writing to be very delightful, however, I think it could have been more exciting. I think this world she has created has something for those interested in mysteries with a dash of fantasy, especially if you like vampires. I would like to check out New Amsterdam one day, if only to read more about Abby Irene. C+

I received an ARC through a contest with the author.


  1. this sounds really in depth for a shorter novel!!

  2. Interesting. I haven't even heard of this book until now. Glad as a whole you liked the book.



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