Review: Whiskey and Water

Whiskey and Water (Promethean Age, #2)Whiskey and Water by Elizabeth Bear
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was hard to read. I enjoyed it, but it was definitely hard. Goodreads says it’s the second book of this series and it probably is (the info is populated by GR people who volunteer to be librarians and is sometimes wrong). So I’m sure part of my difficulties come from jumping in past the initial narrative. Ms Bear has created a semi-alternative world that is complex and full of complex characters. This realism to the characters is what drew me in despite how much I had to work. Ms Bear also did a great job at making this an acceptable entry point into the series as she explained characters’ relationships to each other whenever they were introduced.

What made it hardest was the fact that it presupposed a LOT of fantasy knowledge. If I hadn’t read a few books from fantasy bundles recently introducing me to things like The Summer Court, The Unseelie, and Kelpies I would have been utterly lost. If you are a huge fantasy geek, you will probably love this book.

Second hardest was the fact that everyone had at least two names or identities. The Kelpie was also known as Whiskey and Usebaugh (not spelt correctly) and the Queen of the Unseelie was known as Aine or The Cat Anna.

So what was this actually about? I’m not 100% sure. In addition to everyone having two names, everyone also had at least one if not two ulterior motives. Do you like the intrigue and back-stabbing of A Song of Ice and Fire? That’s got nothing on this book. I will say that, somewhat realistically, there’s a lot of churn for what seems like very little gain. Which – depending on whether you’re a journey or destination type of reader – might be fun or frustrating. I used to be exclusively the latter and now I’ve moved towards the middle.

Just as time travel can be a real mind screw to get your head around, this book employs a similar theme to Bill Willingham’s Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile – the stories people tell about mythology affect things. In the most non-spoilery example, there are 3 different characters of the Christian Devil to represent different stories about him. There’s Lucifer, Satan, and one who goes by Christian. I think one is from the Bible, one is from Milton, and one is from Chaucer.

I think this review probably seems a lot more negative than I intend it to be. I’m more just trying to explain why I didn’t quite get it – why I read and read and am not sure exactly what happened. I’ve been reading constantly since I was a kid – sometimes reading adult fare as a kid and sometimes reading YA as an adult and there are very few books (outside of time travel) that have ever left me feeling so befuddled. And yet, I enjoyed all the characters – they have pathos and real motivations for their actions. They’re earnest, mean, tricky, petty, megalomaniacal, horny – they’re “real” human beings And that’s great. I’ll read more of Ms Bear’s work and I might even read more of this series.

I guess in the end, this review is a great meta example of how I felt while reading.

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