"Hell and Earth" Elizabeth Bear

Hell and Earth is the second half of the story begun in Ink and Steel (post). I have unfortunately left this too long between reading and writing up (3 weeks? maybe more) so this will be briefer notes than originally intended.

This pair of books are very much two halves of a larger story - although there's some degree of resolution at the end of Ink and Steel (and it's not a cliff hanger), most of the plotlines don't come to fruition until this book. But this half of the story feels more like Kit Marlowe's story (where the first half was more Will Shakespeare's or perhaps more balanced between the two). Over the course of Ink and Steel Bear set up her world where the land of mortals (England as ruled by Elizabeth I) is linked to the court of the Daoine Sidhe (as ruled by the Mebd). Now Elizabeth is dying, as all mortals inevitably must, which threatens the Fae due to this linkage as well as potentially plunging the mortal world into the chaos of a succession crisis. But that's almost the B-plot, the main thrust of the story is Kit discovering what was done to him in his youth that's left him with PTSD and symbols carved into his flesh. It wasn't just petty sadism on the part of his tormentor, but is another way in which Kit is a tool that has been shaped to fit a long term plan to alter the stories that shape the world.

Mortality is a thread that runs through the whole book - it even opens with the discovery of Edmund Spenser dead in his home. But it's not just mortality that keeps cropping up it's also the aftermath and the grieving, and how the people left behind cope. Not just Elizabeth and whether & how the country and the Fae are going to survive the turmoil of her passing away. But also on a more intimate level - Will is dying, slowly but surely, as all mortals will. But Kit is not entirely mortal any more and beginning to live with the realisation that all that he loved in the mortal realm will inevitably fade away.

As with Ink and Steel (and Bear's books in general) one of the things I like best about this world she has created is the sense of reality, even tho the plot and premise are fantastical. The characters react plausibly to the situation(s) they're in, I have a strong sense of personality for them all. Even if I might not predict what's going to happen next it doesn't feel forced, rather grows organically out of the characters & their interactions.

I wish I'd either taken a few notes or written this up sooner, as I'm sure I had more to say. It's a series that continues to feel like it would reward paying close attention and taking notes, whilst still being a lot of fun to read on a surface level. There's another book in the series just recently come out, which I've not picked up a copy of yet - I need to rectify this soon! :)

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