Elizabeth Bear, Seven For A Secret (Subterranean, 2009)

To call Seven For a Secret a sequel to New Amsterdam is perhaps not quite accurate. Certainly, it picks up the characters from the previous book many years on; it continues their story, advances their world's timeline and embroils them in a new intrigue. On the other hand, where New Amsterdam was a series of mysteries, this is a single story of genteel espionage. Where New Amsterdam had a strong action element to it, here the pyrotechnics are emotional. And where New Amsterdam was in many ways about beginnings, Seven For a Secret is about endings, and last acts of defiance against the dying of the light.

For the mage and detective Abigail Irene Garrett has gotten old, even as her wampyr lover Sebastien has stayed young, and this is most assuredly not the standard "further adventures of." Instead, it is the story of a most dangerous game played in the shadow of death. And make no mistake, it is impending death that drives the plot, in this case Abby Irene's. All the world thinks she has returned home to England to die, but this is no longer the England she knew. The armies of the unnamed Prussian Chancellor have swept over Europe, the royal family is in exile, and Prussian sorcerer-soldiers are training young English girls to become werewolves.

That's the real reason that Sebastien and his aging but still dangerous Court have come to London: to try to effect revolution and liberate England. It is in these girls that the Prussians are attempting to mold into monsters that they see their most terrible threat -- and their greatest opportunity.

While that sounds like the setup for a fairly straightforward setup (genre considerations notwithstanding), it's not all that's going on. Rather than leave the action with Sebastien and friends, Bear also flips the narrative to show the reader Ruth Grell -- one of the girls in the Prussian magical bioweapons program -- and her motivations as well. It's a potent reminder to the would-be manipulators on both sides that the putatively manipulated do indeed have minds and drives and desires of their own, and to take their cooperation for granted is to risk disaster. Certainly Ruth's plans have the potential to disrupt what both sides think they're going to get from her through her use.

Ultimately, that's what's in play here: the choice to use others versus the choice to work with them; the choice to earn their loyalty versus the choice to compel it; and the choice whether or not to allow others to choose. A reader with over-excited political sensitivities might see commentary on this year's elections in that, while others may view the book in more abstract terms. Either way, Seven For a Secret remains as enjoyable as its predecessor, while managing to be more thought-provoking. It is the shorter book of the two, but it is by no means the lighter one.

[Richard Dansky]

Elizabeth Bear can be found online here.