Thursday, October 1, 2015

Steven Brust & Emma Bull - Freedom and Necessity

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.

Comment: I got this book because I was immensely curious about it after reading this review by a blogger I follow and I bought the book not too long after reading that and it has awaited in the pile all this time. This month I decided to start it and I was very eager to do so. I had high I have to confess that, despite not thinking this is a bad book, I imagined I'd like it much more.
This story is told in epistolary mode, and we know about the facts by following the letter's exchange between the four main characters and even by reading some of their personal journal's entries. There are three main parts where we can see how the plot will move along.
The focus is James Cobham, someone who was presumed dead but who resurfaces after a while. James is known to be involved in the Chartist movement so that could be reason someone tried to kill him. But what if the reason is more personal? Who could be the real culprit? Can James and his cousins Richard, Kitty and Susan uncover the secrets that are behind everything?
I admit this story had many elements to work out. And I do love romances and stories in the epistolary format. But this book didn't grab me the way I envisioned and wished for. I was bored in several occasions and felt rather lost in the middle of so many distracting information. I've read a reviewer say that's the veracity of this because normal people ramble in their letters, but from a  reader's POV, I'd have liked some editing and a bit more objectivity because there were moments where I didn't know what I was reading about and that surely makes me lose interest.
There were times where I didn't know the plot, to be honest, especially in the beginning. Things got much easier in the second part where the four cousins - not all related by direct parentage - started to investigate James's almost drowning and what could have caused the problems and the threats against him. From that point on, I though things got more interesting and some scenes were actually engrossing to read. I suppose I can say the historical aspects of the book are predominant and well researched, the authors included so much information I felt at times I was reading about real people. For that, it certainly helped Engels was a character (and references of Marx!) throughout the book.
The more philosophic side of things passed me by because I kept trying to focus on the romance details, the relationships and the things happening to the main characters and the actions they were doing to accomplish the find of the truth. I did have a good time trying to see through every letter, every meaning but there were passages I felt were too long to go through, to get to what mattered. That is distracting because I couldn't always maintain my focus on the important things.
I understand it's the author's style and aim, but I guess I'm not one of those who read this like a masterpiece...
There are many interesting details in the story, some hidden meanings and secrets that really change the whole sense of the story if one thinks about a certain perspective, so I admit I was surprised by some things. The end was ok, the authors did  a good job portraying determined situations and in developing the characters, in terms of writing everything was perfect. Only the content didn't woe me all the time. The way the book ends is acceptable, understandable, well justified, but I still would have liked to change some things. The romantic in me would make the end a bit more sugary, actually. I mean everyone ends up happy as they deserve but...oh well.
In the end, this was a good book, several good things about it, but too distracting, not enough clear information, at least not in a way we, the reader, can see things. I get it, but I still disliked it a bit. Nevertheless, a good enough plot and story, but quite boring at times...
Grade: 6/10

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