So I originally read Steven Brust and Emma Bull’s Freedom & Necessity back when it came out in the ‘90s, but inspired by Dracula Daily, Kate Nepveu organized a read-along-with-the-date group read, and so what the hell, I can re-read a book every quarter century.

My memories of what happened in the novel were very thin—all I remembered is that there ws a bunch of revolutionary stuff that tied into 1848 (about which I knew very little back when I first read it; thanks to listening to Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast, I now know a lot more).

And upon re-reading, it’s clear why my memory is so hazy: The book is written as a series of letters, right. And through tbh a lot of the book, the two writers are just throwing plot hooks at each other, like generous improv partners. Which is cool, but then eventually they need to start closing all the doors they opened. And so there are a lot of plot elements that just are not really compatible with each other at all. Reading along with other people and being able to ask, “wait, who was that again?” and so forth, I can see that it’s possible for it all to make sense as not just a single elaborate conspiracy, but as an interlocking-and-overlapping-but-not-coinciding set of elaborate conspiracies… but even at that, a couple of plot elements ended up not quite working their way to fruition, including most of the explicitly-fantastic one (one of which appears to have been pulled back in at the end, as a kind of sequel hook; I assume at this point no sequel is forthcoming, though).

But the story isn’t really where this book shines, anyway; the characters are. And Susan and Kitty and James and Richard still jump off the page just as much today as they did a quarter century ago. I think I probably liked this book more way back when, but it’s still enjoyable today, and recommended.


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