cover image Freedom and Necessity

Freedom and Necessity

Steven Brust. Tor Books, $25.95 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85974-9

Top-tier fantasists Brust (Five Hundred Years After) and Bull (War for the Oaks) team up for a historical romance, expertly styled after a 19th-century English epistolary novel, that runs one James Cobham through the gauntlets of three sinister conspiracies. For all the novel's philosophizing (Hegel and Feuerbach are much discussed), it is at heart a romantic mystery-adventure that alternates bloody fights and breathless chases with drawing-room chat. Presumed drowned for much of the book, James must track down his would-be assassins or enemies-including a devil-worshipping cult, a family squabbling over ownership of an ancient estate and forces interested in the pacification of the English proletariat (both Engels and Marx show up at one time or another). First through the assistance of his cousin Richard, later with the help of his witty, spirited cousin Susan, with whom he falls in love, James must make his way through a web of intrigue that stretches across all of England. A clever and horrific twist caps off this intelligent tale, which features engaging characters and surprises that, for all their thrills, stem quite naturally from the groundwork the authors have so cleverly laid. (Mar.)