No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Saturday, January 30, 2010

2010/06: Hell and Earth -- Elizabeth Bear

"The Catholics would redeem us," Kit said, crouching to warm his hands before a star that grew and flowered close beside his feet. They stood on one of the crystal vaults of heaven: far below, he could discern the shifting blue-white orb of the Earth. "If we forswore all for the love of God." He paused, pressing his fingers to the crystal, so pure it was invisible. "An we were closer, I might amend some maps." (p. 93-94)

The second part of 'The Stratford Man', following Ink and Steel. I ordered this within minutes of finishing the first book, and when it failed to show up immediately I bought the ebook to tide me over.

I liked it extremely. Good thing, really, as I have two copies now.

Hell and Earth picks up where Ink and Steel left off, so it's going to be hard to avoid spoilers in this review. Nevertheless I shall try ...

Kit is more proactive in this volume, applying himself to the solution of mysteries (Baines' agenda, who killed Hamnet, what the dreamt name 'Mehiel' might signify) and being presented with more (the identity of Prometheus, why the lamia Amaranth is so helpful, the purpose of the events in Rheims). He's also involved with a major new project, a translation of the Bible. And he attends a funeral or two.

Despite the powers he's won -- and those bestowed on him unwilling and unrecognised -- Kit isn't invulnerable. He makes choices, and some of them are bad; he attempts action, and it's not always successful. Nevertheless, he's grimly determined to be his own man. Only at the end of the novel (and in the epilogue, which made me teary-eyed) do we have the feeling that he's wholly free.

There's a lot in this novel about the power and magic of Story: how contradictory stories (for instance, models of the cosmos) can be simultaneously true; how the stories an artist tells can save him ... All stories are true. But this is becoming more true than the other. (p. 259)

Kit inspires various emotions in various characters: perhaps the most important is loyalty. Though it takes him a while to recognise that he's also loved.

I haven't mentioned Will. This is not because he's irrelevant to the plot of the novel, but that it's so much Kit's story -- or perhaps that I was so focussed on Kit's story. Nonetheless, Will's narrative strand also fascinates: a mortal man aware (and wary) of the magick woven through his world and his creations, devoted to his wife, still mourning his son, befriending Ben Jonson (who has a Sekrit Crush though not on Will: Ben amused me greatly), and writing, writing, writing.

Hell and Earth is fast-moving -- there are some scenes I'd have liked to see played out, rather than merely alluded to -- and full of unexpected twists and contrary agenda and game-playing and twice-told tales that cast a different meaning on the narrative.

This is a rather breathless review, I know, but I'm still digesting the plot and finding new resonances and revelations: and I'm still very much enamoured of Bear's Kit.

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