Ink and Steel is a novel from Elizabeth Bear from her Promethean Age series. (Also includes Whiskey and Water and Blood and Iron.)

Ah….Elizabeth Bear. I have issues with her books. Strangely enough, all her characters have issues, too.

I think reading one of her Promethean Age novels (or Dust, for that matter) is for me like looking too long and hard at Picasso’s painting of the Nazi bombing of Guernica. It’s too much. It’s too full. It’s too intense. It’s too layered. Yet I can not but respect the crafting of such a work that evokes so many emotions.

It’s just I don’t want to spend too much time with it. And by my standards, it takes me a long time to read Bear’s novels.

Because they are packed. There are allusions and quotes and sly winks that one has to keep track of. And in the Promethean Age books, such as Ink and Steel, there are layers of political intriguing.

Ink and Steel starts with Kit Marley’s death. He ends up in Faerie with Morgan le Fay and her son, Murchaud, and then comes back to London occasionally to help Will Shakespeare and others maintain Queen Elizabeth’s grip on England. Bear’s dialogue sounds spot on to me, a non-expert in Elizabethan English without being confusing or annoying. Her vocabulary and period details were amazing.

But it’s not about political intrigue in London past, really. It’s more about how love is difficult and intense and how we suffer for our loves. And everyone in it wants to or ends up having sex with everyone else.

For anyone who really likes intense personal relationships that explore levels of love and friendship, this is a great book. However, sometimes I felt like I wanted a character who didn’t have angsty angst wrapped up in their dealings with others. I didn’t want long sighs and pent up feelings and deeds done for the love of another.

In that way, many of the characters bleed together for me.

But like Guernica, I can’t stop looking. Even when it makes me uncomfortable in the pit of my stomach, I keep reading. So what does that say about how good the book is?

Recommended, but caution for some intense allusions to torture and some sexual scenes on the edge of uncomfortable.