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Literature / New Amsterdam Books

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A series of short stories and novellas by Elizabeth Bear, covering the years between 1898 and 1962 in the life of vampire detective Don Sebastien de Ulloa. The works are set in a world much like ours, except supernatural things are real and — because magic leveled the playing field — Europeans were never able to settle the Americas beyond the coastal areas, meaning there are colonies instead of the United States for most of the books.

The four volumes in the series as of June 2012 are:

  • New Amsterdam (May 2007, Subterranean Press): Sebastien and his court leave England for the British colonies in the Americas, only to find things really aren't any simpler there.
  • Seven for a Secret (novella) (March 2009, Subterranean Press): Lady Abigail Irene Garrett lives her last days in a WWII-era London, while Sebastien deals with werewolves.
  • The White City (novella) (2011, Subterranean Press): Fleeing a tragedy, Sebastien, Abby Irene and Phoebe Smith land in 1902 Moscow, where an old mystery is resurrected. While this book was published after Seven for a Secret, it is set before it.
  • ad eternum (novella) (2012, Subterranean Press): Sebastien returns to New Amsterdam in 1962.
  • Garrett Investigates (eBook) (2012, Subterranean Press): Five short stories about Abigail Irene, set between 1879 and 1941.

This series contains examples of:

  • Agent Peacock: David is effeminate, dresses opulently, and even carries around an amber-handled cane. That doesn't stop him from saving pretty much every other major character by taking Sebastien's place in a trial by fire. And he doesn't even scream..
  • Alternate History: Implicit in the concept.
  • Ambiguously Brown: In the first book, Sebastien seems to be an olive-skinned Spaniard by birth. Later in the series, it's revealed that his biological father was a Moor, though Sebastien does not know if the man was black or a Berber.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Jack. He flirts with members of both sexes, and clearly finds Sebastien's bite arousing, but his only unambiguous sexual relationships are with Phoebe and Irina.
  • America Is Still a Colony: Magic has greatly restricted the expansion of the American colonies, as a result of which, they never even tried to become independent.
  • Anyone Can Die: David's death was bad enough, but then the book kills Jack Priest??? Bear took to her LiveJournal to justify the decisions.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Epaphras Bull was a gay Puritan who loathed himself and anyone like him.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Tesla, what with his habit of locking doors three times, his all-important pigeon cote that he inconveniently houses above a death-ray machine, his bizarre non-sequiturs, and his inability to concentrate on his work if a nearby woman is wearing earrings. He's still a brilliant scientist with a fair knowledge of magic as well.
  • Bury Your Gays: Jack, David, and at least three homosexual prostitutes all die in the first book.
  • Camp Gay: David. Even Sebastien calls him "effeminate."
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: Vampires can't have sex, but they get the same thing through biting. It's revealed in The White City that Sebastien died a virgin.
  • Consummate Liar: According to Sebastien, "No one could lie like David." In fact, Sebastien decides at one point that David is telling the truth because his expression looks unfamiliar.
  • The Corrupter: A major part of Sebastien's attraction to Epaphras was "the attraction of corrupting the innocent and hypocritical." Centuries later, he still feels guilty for it.
  • The Corruptible: How Sebastien originally viewed Epaphras.
  • Creepy Blue Eyes: Epaphras has startling blue eyes, extremely pale blue edged with indigo, which add to his air of strangeness.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Lillian Meadows, at least as described by Phoebe and Sebastien. It's probably worth mentioning that they don't find the crossdressing creepy— they just think she's cold and manipulative.
  • Death Ray: Nicola Tesla's reputed death ray causes Sebastien to choose caution, just this once.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everyone gets to do this from time to time.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Subverted with a couple of characters who fall under false suspicion of murdering homosexual prostitutes. In fact, one of them turns out to be a bona fide hero.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?: Sebastien can smell Irina on Jack after their first sexual encounter.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Not quite everyone, but a substantial minority including Sebastien, Jack Priest and Irina Stephanova, as well as some additional minor characters.
  • Fantastic Racism: While being a vampire is legally tolerated in much of this world, most people aren't comfortable with them and there is some legal persecution.
  • Frame-Up: Poor Ilya, in The White City.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Vampire: Sebastien can be cynical, but he is deeply kind and wants to do the right thing.
  • Gayngst: Epaphras/ David spent decades if not centuries struggling with this.
  • Gentleman Wizard: Abby Irene is titled aristocracy as well as one of the few women trained and licensed in thaumaturgy in her world. She'd rather be called Doctor Garrett than Lady Abigail Irene.
  • Going Commando: Sebastien lifts Abby Irene's petticoats and finds her "as bare underneath as any dance-hall can-can girl."
  • Great Detective: In-universe, Sebastien is such a brilliant and well-known consulting detective that he's explicitly a model for Sherlock Holmes.
  • Harmful to Minors: At the age of five, Jack Priest was indentured as a courtesan (meaning a provider of a blood, not sex) to vampires who abused him until Sebastien bought him when he was seven. Although he finds the memories painful, the experience didn't traumatize him too badly to enjoy feeding Sebastien years later.
  • Hemo Erotic: For vampires, drinking one another's blood provides an intimacy and pleasure analogous to sex. Being bitten by a vampire causes intense arousal in a human as well.
  • Heroic Dog: Abby Irene's little terrier, Mike, who launches himself at a supernatural monster that attacks her.
  • Heroic Willpower: This is why Sebastien can drink from his companions without taking enough to hurting them. David also has enough to refrain from screaming while burning to death.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Michael Penfold, Jr. It turns out he's the serial killer of homosexual prostitutes in Boston in Chatoyant.
  • Historical Domain Character: Nicola Tesla. There's also a likely reference to Marie Curie in New Amsterdam, although it doesn't come out and say her name.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Jack. He makes connections with two underground independence movements, speaks multiple languages, can find anybody, and flirts his way into any information he didn't have already.
  • I Hate You, Vampire Dad: We meet one vampire, Epaphras, whom Sebastien made. The two have a very distrustful relationship, largely due to Epaphras's holdover Puritanism, and Epaphras initially cursed Sebastien for turning him. However, Sebastien acknowledges that Epaphras wasn't really angry with him for very long — his self-loathing gloom was just too hard to live with.
  • Informed Flaw: Lillian Meadows's nasty character. Characters attribute manipulation and coldness to her, but we never see proof that she's done anything all that terrible.
  • Informed Judaism: Jack had Jewish parents, but the only way he practices his faith is by keeping kosher. He lives under a variety of surnames, most of them Gentile. Notably, he has no issues with either homosexuality or sorcery. Justified both because he was raised by Sebastien, who does not practice any religion, and because it's clear he's quiet about it in part due to antisemitism.
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople): The first book takes place manly in New Amsterdam, New Holland, not New York, New York. It's explained that the Dutch only sold the land to the British in the early 19th century and nobody thought it was worth changing the names. For similar reasons, Mexico is generally referred to as the Aztec Empire.
  • Kiss of the Vampire: Sebastien's bite is all but explicitly paralleled with oral sex.
  • Lover and Beloved: A vampire version with Sebastien and Epaphras, whom Sebastien thinks renamed himself David because it translates as "beloved."
  • Magitek: Used along with coal to run power plants.
  • Mayfly–December Romance. Sebastien with all his human companions, but especially Jack Priest.
  • The Mistress: Averted. Readers might imagine that the long-term lover of a married duke would be a kept woman or extravagant courtier, but Abby Irene has no intention of sacrificing her financial or moral autonomy. However, the French president does keep a much more typical mistress.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Phoebe Smith is a "young widow," but still several years older than Jack Priest. The books give her attraction to him a sympathetic treatment.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Phoebe Smith is a novelist.
  • Mundane Fantastic: Magic is a fact of life in this world, and practicing it in public is seen in Paris as about as gauche as urinating in the street.
  • Named After First Installment: The first book is called New Amsterdam, but "New Amsterdam" is only tangentially relevant to the other books. Aside from being their name for New York City, given that it's an Alternate History of the setting, there's minimal connection here.
  • Of Corset Hurts: The semi-respectable women, such as Abby Irene and Phoebe, wear corsets that constrain their sitting, bite into their hips, and generally cause the discomfort you'd expect, although one also proves useful when it takes the brunt of a magical beast's clawing attack. Lillian Meadows, a scandalous actress, and Irina Stephanova, a bohemian artist, both wear men's clothing without corsets.
  • The Older Immortal: Starkad.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Vampires in this series can live thousands of years, and feed primarily on the blood of the willing. They cannot ingest any human food; are strong and light, to the point where they can leap great distances; do not reflect in mirrors; can be photographed; have no particular aversion to garlic or religious objects. Sunlight, stakes and fire will kill them.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Two kinds: The one in New Amsterdam seems to be an inhuman monster, while the ones in Seven for a Secret are soldiers being given wolf-like powers through magic. The ones in the latter book are apparently immortal and do not age.
  • Parental Abandonment: Jack's parents sold him into servitude when he was five; it's implied he was treated very badly until Sebastien purchased him a few years later. Sebastien left Epaphras behind because he "was angry company," and apologizes for it.
  • Polyamory: Sebasten and his court have this kind of arrangement. Well, without actual sex on Sebastien's part (although he does something sexy to Abby Irene before he starts drinking her blood), but the Hemo Eroticism makes it similar.
  • Plenty of Blondes: Played with. In-universe, Abby Irene notices that all of Sebastien's courtesans and offspring are blond, which she considers odd until Jack explains that Sebastien's maker was dark.
  • Pretty Boy: Jack and David.
  • Really 700 Years Old: How old Sebastien looks seems to shift through the books, but it's definitely much younger than his actual age of 1,200. On a somewhat less extreme note, Epaphras/David has been a vampire for around 250 years, but that's still several times his apparent age: He's short, slight, and pale, and may well have been still in adolescence when Sebastian turned him.
  • Sensual Slavs: The girls in 1897 Moscow are noted as being much freer and less formal than young women elsewhere in Europe.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: Epaphras started out as a gay 17th-century Puritan, and it wrecked his life and his unlife.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Abby Irene "cultivated finishing-school manners and a nerve of steel."
  • Silver Vixen: Abby Irene is in her early fifties when we meet her. She still has quite an active sex life.
  • STD Immunity: Both invoked and averted with Epaphras/David. As a human prostitute, he contracted and would have died of syphilis if Sebastien hadn't made him immune by turning him into a vampire. The remaining human characters act as if STDs didn't exist, despite the fact that they must be aware of them, but they may be able to access magical treatments not available to an impoverished prostitute such as David. The fact sorcerers for tuberculosis is mentioned in the final chapter of Garrett Investigates, and it stands to reason they could treat STDs as well.
  • Suicide by Sunlight: One character dies this way, in what's basically the vampire version of Suicide by Cop.
  • Their First Time: Jack loses his virginity to Irina in The White City. The realization that she mostly wanted him as a means of access to Sebastien makes it something of a downer in retrospect.
  • The Vamp: Mlle. LeClere, who seduces men in order to blackmail them. In fairness, it's probably how her mother raised her.
  • Vampires Are Rich: It's noted Sebastien has more money than he could ever spend, though his lifestyle is not especially lavish. By contrast, the younger wampyr David is a prostitute, but he never quit whoring even when living under Sebastien's protection, which suggests it wasn't really about the money.
  • Visionary Villain: Peter Eliot, the mayor of New Amsterdam, is ruthless and probably even a murderer, but all his villainous acts serve the greater goal of freeing the American colonies from British rule.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: "Wholesome" might be a bit much, as she can be very manipulative, but Irina Stephanova is no worse than most of the characters our protagonists encounter.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Sebastien is largely bored, tired and almost ready to let go of it all. Humans convince him to stay.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Living through various wars has cured Sebastien of causes, "but Jack had an affinity for them, the more doomed the better." That said, Jack takes an incrementalist approach to his radical causes (Home Rule, Free Irish, and so on), and helps bring more violent revolutionaries to justice.
  • Wife Husbandry: A vampverse variant. Sebastien took in Jack when the latter was seven. Jack became his courtesan at age 16. (To be clear, a vampire's courtesan is a regular blood donor, not a sex partner, but a vampire's bite creates intense arousal in humans.) While their romantic connection appears genuine and strong, other characters are appropriately sketched out by this.
  • Wizarding School: Common in this world, where all sorcerers are university-trained. The establishment of a new one is a major plot point in Ad Eternum.

Alternative Title(s): New Amsterdam