The latest entry in Elizabeth Bear’s New Amsterdam cycle, Ad Eternum brings things full circle geographically and thematically. There are no zeppelins here, and the magic is almost entirely offstage (or theoretical and academic). Instead. Sebastien de Ulloa – now calling himself Jack Prior – returns to the city he abandoned years before, alone and wrestling with the crushing weight of years. It’s 1962, his Circle is dead, and there seems to be little point in his going on.
But a chance meeting on the flight over from London provides new connections and a new opportunity, while the city of New Amsterdam itself is struggling with the notion of vampire rights. Throw in the one non-vampiric survivor from Ulloa’s past, and the ancient wampyr is suddenly faced with a blossoming of possibilities.
That de Ulloa ultimately chooses, if not life, then at least to continue to embrace human connection and possibility is not a surprise. Everyone in the novella, from a mysterious magician claiming immortality to a brand-new vampire still learning the ropes to a new love interest (who comes with a most intriguing job offer) offers de Ulloa exactly what he’s looking for: connection, challenge, companionship. The wampyr’s ruminations on how old and tired he is don’t carry weight, not with the buffet of opportunity laid out before him.
With luck, Ad Eternum is a liminal piece, one that closes the door on the old chapters of protagonist’s life and sets the stage for new ones with a new cast of characters. De Ulloa remains an interesting protagonist, at least when he’s not trying to convince himself that there’s nothing interesting left to say about him, and he’s still capable of rousing himself to action. However, taken by itself Ad Eternum, it’s overly introspective and oddly slow, a coda rather than a climax.
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