The White City: Best alternative-historical urban fantasy you haven’t read

Elizabeth Bear The White Cityfantasy book review Elizabeth Bear New Amsterdam The White CityThe White City by Elizabeth Bear

The vampire-detective Don Sebastien de Ulloa and his small ‘court’ visit the White City of Moscow on two occasions, in 1897 and 1903, both before and after his sojourn in an alternative America. On both occasions, someone closely linked to a politically-active young artist, Irina Stephanova, is murdered. As the mysteries in both 1897 and 1903 unfold, Sebastien confronts a much older entity inhabiting Moscow and, ultimately, the mystery of his own forgotten past.

The White City is the third book by Elizabeth Bear featuring Sebastien, after New Amsterdam and Seven for a Secret. However, in the world of the story, the events occur both before and after those chronicled in New Amsterdam, so I strongly recommend reading the latter book first. (Seven for a Secret takes place about thirty years after New Amsterdam.) This reviewer enjoyed the first two books in the series more than the latest, but that’s not to disparage it. Bear’s writing is vivid and descriptive without being dense or sluggish, and the subtlety and sophistication with which she depicts the characters and their relationships is remarkable. Overall, I’m almost certain that this is the best alternative-historical urban fantasy (for mature readers) that you haven’t read yet, particularly if you relish nuanced interpersonal relationships. Four cold, bright stars.


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ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.

View all posts by Rob Rhodes (retired)

One comment

  1. I haven’t read any of these books yet, but they do sound intriguing. Adding New Amsterdam to my to-read list right now.

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