Freedom & Necessity
by Steven Brust & Emma Bull
Tor, 1997, ISBN 0-312-85974-0
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
It's 1849, the place is England, and James Cobham is dead. He was seen to drown, although his body was never recovered. Except that two months later, his cousin Richard receives a letter from James, who's working as an hostler at an inn and doesn't remember the past two months. The story unfolds in the letters and journal entries of Richard, James, Kitty, Susan, and assorted other connections, further enlivened by the fact that nobody is telling anybody everything. As the four principles gradually pick apart the threads of the several competing conspiracies with various political, personal, and financial motivations, life becomes ever more exciting, more exciting than any of them wanted it to be.
It should be noted, I think, that no one finding this book cold in the general fiction section of a more mainstream bookstore, or in the library without a little sticker indicating "fantasy", would ever identify this as anything other than a straight historical novel. Nothing unambiguously fantastical ever happens in it; even the ambiguous things are not especially prominent. This is a very good, complex, literate historical novel, getting an sf readership because of its authors and its marketing. Highly recommended.