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Mississippi Blues
Kathleen Ann Goonan
Buy It? Did you like the first one?

Mississippi Blues picks up promptly after the end of Queen City Jazz. Verity has saved the people of Cincinnati by the rather drastic measure of infecting them with the nan virus called the Territory Plague, the same one several of her Shaker friends fell victim to before her departure. Based for reasons no one knows on Huckleberry Finn, the plague creates an irresistable compulsion to build a raft and travel down the river to New Orleans—a city which may or may not still exist. It is the only thing powerful enough to convince the people to leave their city before it can undergo another nan conversion—this time, perhaps, into what it was originally meant to be—that will remake everything and anyone within its walls.

As Verity, Blaze, and the people of Cinncinnati travel down the Ohio and then the Mississippi River, two stories unfold. One is that of Blaze's recovery, which is intimately wound up with the blues, a form of music the travelers encounter again and again, and which at times exerts amazing power. The other is the all-but-lost recent history of America, revealed in bits and pieces as the people of Cinncinnati recover fragments of their personal pasts, and by characters encountered during the journey, some of whom played an intimate part in events.

Unfortunately, I didn't like this one as much as I did the first book. I did find it a good story, but to my eyes it has a lot of structural flaws that make it suffer by comparison. I was quite annoyed at times by the way Blaze's first-person intervals interrupted the narrative; I don't find him a particularly compelling character, and most of his interludes had to do with the history of the blues and the history of slavery and prejudice that helped create them. This is certainly an important story, but too often in this context it devolved into didacticism, and even worse it didn't really seem to have any vital connection to the main tale.

My other major problem was with the story's jumpiness. This may have been an insoluable problem for a tale set around a journey down a river, with a necessarily changing cast of characters as they travel, but the book never seemed to find any rhythm. People jumped in and out of the story at something close to random, events took place with little sense of rhyme or reason. The most frustrating of the latter was Abe's death—the great bugbear of the first book, the haunt of Cincinnati now trailing Verity in search of redemption or vengeance, is killed off in this odd little afterthought scene that appears to have no point to it whatsoever. Maybe something will be revealed in the third book to change this, but if so I can't imagine what it will be.

It certainly isn't all bad, of course—far from it, it was a decently enjoyable book, far better than quite a lot of what's out there. Some of the characters were fabulous, some interludes fantastic, and the appearing background of the story is for lack of a better word cool, but overall the story disappoints next to Queen City Jazz.

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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson