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 of Freedom 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.
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!
Read: September 2009