Tuesday, May 22, 2012

[Lisa's Take] Freedom & Necessity by Steve Brust and Emma Bull

I really have to get a review for Freedom & Necessity written before it fades from my brain. This was the last book by Steve Brust that I hadn’t read; upon completing it I can officially say I have read every novel he has written (including all the obscure stuff like To Reign in Hell, Agyar, Cowboy Feng’s, as well as The Sun, the Moon and the Stars). Given that I was first turned onto Brust 10 years ago and that he instantly became my favorite author, I think I’ve done a pretty good job spacing out my enjoyment. It feels nice to say “I’ve read it all!” though. Finishing it also means that I’ve read nearly all of Emma Bull (I have 2 of her books to go).

Anyway, I first tried to read Freedom & Necessity while moving between my Junior and Senior dorm in college. I remember sitting on the floor while I waited for the resident life coordinator to come give me my new keys. I was jittery and hot and not at all in the right mindset. I read about 15 pages, couldn’t get into the narrative, and set it down. 7 years later I decided to give it another shot, mostly because I was looking for low-hanging fruit to clear out of my stack. It proceeded to take me longer to finish than any other single book I’ve read in the last 5 years.

That sounds like a bad thing, and in some ways it bothered me that it took the better part of two months to wade my way through it. But at the same time, it felt somehow _right_ to space it out. There were times when the pacing was slow and I ended up slogging through political rants (be warned, this may turn some people off), but there were other times when it induced a pleasant sort of nostalgic heartache to wait to read the next chapter. The story is written as a series of letters exchanged between four close friends during Interesting Times, and spacing out the chapters felt a lot like waiting excitedly by the mailbox for the postman to arrive. It was fitting.

Despite the slowness, Freedom & Necessity was one of the most emotionally evocative books I’ve read in a while. The 4 characters each have very distinct relationships with each other, and every relationship is poignant and deep. The tension between James & Susan is particularly good; when it came to a head my heart was pounding and I felt like I could cut the air with a knife. The end of the book had me dizzy with anticipation, and I had a good cry over the final few chapters. The last time I recall being so emotionally moved by a book was at the end of the Long Price Quartet.

Freedom & Necessity is not nice light beach reading, but it is worth the time investment to get through it. While the political ramblings can be a bit of a turn-off, the rest of the story more than makes up for it, presenting an engrossing combination of Victorian-era literature tinged with hints of magic.