Elizabeth Bear, Whiskey and Water (Roc, 2007)
The war between Faerie and the Prometheans ended in an uneasy truce when Matthew Szczegielniak, the man with the most unpronounceably heroic name in all of fantasy literature (yes, that does include Moorcock's improbably-named characters), turned coat and destroyed the Prometheans' world-breaching bridge. That was seven years ago. (If you missed it, you can read about it in Blood and Iron, the first tale in this duology, which is in itself, the first half of a two-part series on the Prometheans, with the second half comprised of Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth.) Needless to say, the powers that be, the powers that aren't but want to be, and a handful of the powers who were and are no more have all been working behind the scenes during this peace, and everything's about to come to a crux at the beginning of Whiskey and Water.
The novel opens with Matthew, protector of New York in name only these days, finding himself at the scene of a murder that has the air of faerie about it. Jane Andraste, Matthew's old boss, has been trying to rebuild her power base since the war, and sees the murder as an opportunity to declare open war on faerie again. But Faerie and the Prometheans have never been the only pieces on the board, and that is even more true here. Matthew is a rogue faction himself, with allies everywhere but not enough power to form them into a solid alliance. Faerie itself is only loosely held together, with the Cat Anna, the Unseelie queen, plotting to overtake the Faerie throne just as Harry, daughter of the current queen, does the same. And Lucifer, the ruler of Hell, switches alliances as often as humans change their underwear.
Whiskey and Water features an even more labyrinthine plot than Blood and Iron did, and thus can be a lot more confusing if you're not paying close enough attention. It also means that the book has more opportunities to get tangled up in itself, and this does occur on occasion; there are places you're simply bound to have to go back and re-read a couple of pages, because there's more going on here than there is in any decent history of, say, the Watergate scandal (and the really good books about Watergate are tricked out with lists of dramatis personae, time lines, summaries, and that sort of thing, while here you're on your own). Because of this, the book does tend to bog down, even in places where the pace should be lightning-fast, but that's a minor quibble most of the time; this is a wonderfully ambitious novel, and on the whole, it succeeds. Recommended. *** ½