One-eyed Jack, by Elizabeth Bear

One-eyed Jack Book Cover One-eyed Jack
Promethean cycle #5 (loosely connected, fine as stand-alone)
Elizabeth Bear
Urban fantasy
Prime Books
June 22nd 2014

"All stories are true. Some are more true than others."

There is a certain phenomenon mostly associated with TV movies, I think - you know, where you're flicking through channels, come across something that just started and you decide to give it a few minutes, and it turns out to be this enormously comforting/cosy/special/strange experience.  See all those adjectives? I mean all of them.  I have TV memories like that, a lot of them.  The one where Ted Danson's dad is a more wonderful kind of insane than expected, the one where... well, most of my readily available examples feature Ted Danson, so I should stop listing them before I embarrass myself.  But that's a special type of film, the one that sneaks up on you unplanned and gives you all that niceness.  And you can get that from books, too.  That's what it was like for me to start reading Elizabeth Bear's One-eyed Jack.

I just didn't have a lot of specific expectations, going in. I was vaguely curious about the author, and thought an urban fantasy sounded okay for the evening, and then for the first few pages I really expected to be pretty bored, because there wasn't much going on, nothing pulling in any direction at all.  Just places, names, atmosphere, enough atmosphere to make me feel like I was breathing dry desert air, which is pretty far from the moist-cold stuff I was actually inhaling from weather that's in that awkward place between rain and snow.

The word I'm looking for is immersive.    The next words are Elvis Presley is a present-day vampire?!

You see.  This is that kind of book.

There are a lot of cameos here, probably a lot more than I was able to catch, as it involves bits of American (and possibly British) pop culture history I'm not intimate with. (Some reviews suggest the show The men from U.N.C.L.E. as a thing relevant to this book, and I've never heard of it.)  Fortunately, the novel is completely readable even without being able to identify every suspected secretly-a-reference-to-something character. I could compare it to actually walking around in Las Vegas, unable to recognise most of the imitation performers except all the Elvises. Elvi. Something.   Because this book is all about Las Vegas.

(Las Vegas wears an eyepatch and doc martens.)

It's not immediately apparent what's actually going on.  Halfway through the book I still don't really know if there's a specific question for the rest of the story to answer. Unless I squint hard at it - then I start seeing the outline of a "this should keep you reading"-shaped thing, but the fact that I would have kept reading anyway, just to spend time in there, says a lot about the book - I'm almost always more attracted to plot than anything else in a story.

I might have lost a little interest towards the end, but not enough to skip my wikipedia browsing trip on Hoover Dam,  Doc Holliday (he must have figured in some of my old Lucky Luke-albums, right?), and... other topics.  Like the Elvis discography.  Yes.

Who's this for?  Anyone who recognised what I meant when I talked about the unexpected joy of Ted Danson movies.  (I never thought I'd have reason to type his name so many times when not actually writing about him at all.)   Or Las Vegas aficionados, I suppose.

Who should stay clear? Don't read this if you need a clear narrative that is going places fast.  And if references to history and pop culture frustrate you when you're not familiar with them, you'll obviously only enjoy this if you possess a matching mental catalogue of facts.


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