In 1938, in an alternate London occupied by the conquering German-Prussian empire, the ancient vampire Sebastien, attended by his ‘court’ of servants, awaits the death of his lover, the venerable sorceress, Abigail Irene. One night, however, two teenage girls — cadets in one of the empire’s schools and each a seventh daughter — pique the vampire’s curiosity. Sebastien and Abigail Irene begin to investigate the girls’ backgrounds and the school’s true activities, even as the girls progress toward an unorthodox graduation that will transform them into the empire’s ultimate stormtroopers. But one of the girls has a secret of her own, and the course of history will hinge on the difficult choices of Sebastien and herself.
This short novella, a sequel to New Amsterdam, by the talented Elizabeth Bear is a skillful blend of alternate history, fantasy, and the macabre. Bear’s writing is clear and brisk, and the character-driven plot tightly woven. I was amazed at Bear’s ability to bring the characters to life with such economy, vividness, and subtlety.
My only non-subjective criticism is that a number of typographical errors appear throughout the text. As just one example, on page 108: “damn carpets” was used when “damp carpets” was apparently intended. (I say apparently because “damn” could technically work in context, but it seemed out of place.) In such a short, otherwise well-written work, such errors are particularly unfortunate. As far as a subjective concern: some readers may not wish to pay the full $25 hardcover price for a book of approximately 115 pages.
I did not read New Amsterdam prior to this book; however, Seven for a Secret was still engaging and, presumably, would appeal even more strongly to anyone who enjoyed its predecessor. I will certainly add New Amsterdam to my reading list. As for Seven for a Secret, I highly recommend it — as a discounted purchase or library loan — for fans of alternate history or post-medieval fantasy/macabre, especially those who enjoy a British or European setting.