Whiskey and Water: A Novel of the Promethean Age
by Elizabeth Bear
Cover Artist: Paul Youll
Review by Paige Roberts
Roc Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451461490
Date: 03 July 2007 List Price $14.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Matthew, the magician linked to the soul of New York City who can no longer work magic since ending the Faerie war, stumbles across a murder committed by a peryton, the soul of a murderer reincarnated as a beast rather like a carnivorous winged stag with claws. Christopher Marlowe leaves Hell where he has lived for many years as Lucifer's lover, and travels to New York in the company of Whiskey, the Kelpie, a spirit of the sea who is both black and white, and both a horse and a man. Kit Marlowe challenges Jane Andraste, the Archmage who was once Matthew's mentor, but is now his enemy, to a duel to the death.
Matthew takes it onto himself to protect the murdered girl's two young companions, Jewels, a wannabe fairy who cuts herself and others for pleasure, and Geoff, a young man with the potential to be a powerful mage, but no desire to follow that path. In the company of the Merlin who is a beautiful lesbian history professor with a link to the dragon spirit of the earth, Matthew, Jewels, and Geoff travel to Faerie to speak to the queen, Jane Andraste's estranged daughter, about the murder. Matthew feels it is urgent to determine who is responsible before the human girl's death at the hands of a Faerie creature triggers another war between Faerie and the mages of Earth.
Meanwhile, Whiskey, who carries the Faerie queen's soul for her, and loves her, has sworn off killing, thus neglecting some of the darker duties of an ocean spirit. The Bunyip, a vicious Australian water spirit, seeks to supplant him. While in Faerie, Matthew befriends Kit Marlowe, and offers to be his second in the duel against the archmage. The queen's son takes Jewels under his wing while he schemes to supplant his mother and rule Faerie.
These are just a few of the cast of characters in this story which includes a few devils, an archangel, a swanmay, a unicorn, a naga, a dragon prince, some pagan magic dabblers, and a cat. The plots and subplots are dense and complex. By the end of the book, the entire cast has had an important part to play, and the many varied plots skillfully and subtly interweave into a finale with serious punch.
Elizabeth Bear's writing style is as dense, complex, and subtle as her plots and characters. The style reminds me a little of Tolkien. This is definitely not a book to sit down to for a light fluffy read. But, if you immerse yourself in this rich, dark world, you will be rewarded with characters with layers of motivation and relationships that weave through the world's destiny like an intricate spider's web.