I'm so much in love with the characters (Ben! Rose! Shaw! Hannibal! Olympe! Dominique! EVERYONE!) and their beautiful, terrible world. I knew absolutely zip-all about New Orleans before reading these books, but it just feels alive in them, the same way that Patrick O'Brian brought the world of the Napoleonic-era British Navy alive to me when I'd never had the slightest interest in it before.
They're really well written and thoroughly researched as far as I can tell -- I mean, I know it's fiction and you wouldn't use them for references for a history paper or anything, but you can tell she researched the hell out of them, and I like her endnotes where she talks about the actual history of whatever topic she's dealing with in the book (voodoo; the New Orleans opera; whatever that book's focus was) and the places where she deliberately blurred reality into fiction and where she didn't. To me anyway, it seems like she deals respectfully with the sensitive nature of the topics she's writing about -- the books deal heavily with race and class relations in pre-Civil-War New Orleans, which is a dreadfully fraught topic to write about, especially for a white author, but the issues are given their due weight rather than being used as nothing more than painted scenery for the characters' swashbuckling. (At least I found them so. I'm open to argument otherwise, however!)
And these books are hitting my family and friendship buttons SO HARD YOU GUYS. Ben and his sisters; his nervous dance between friendship and intimacy with emotionally wounded Rose (and Rose's developing friendship with his sisters, eeeeee); his banter and mutual loyalty with sweet little opium-addicted Hannibal; the wary respect and liking that he and Shaw have developed for each other, despite the entire world of race and class and nationality that separates them ... OH EVERYONE. I am grooving so hard on Ben and Shaw right now, and one of the things that makes me love that character relationship is that it's not just all OH YAY THEY'RE FRIENDS NOW AND EVERYTHING IS COOL because there's nothing easy about a middle-class black man and a working-class white man being friends in the antebellum South, and I really appreciate that the books don't gloss over any of that: that the characters are still constantly smacked in the face with the realities of the different worlds in which they live, and they like each other anyway.
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