Thursday, September 6, 2012

Book Review (#3): The Death of the Necromancer

The Death of the Necromancer (by Martha Wells)

This novel is, very simply, a damn lot of fun. Tired of too-generic, way-too-familiar medieval settings in your fantasy? Martha Wells hears you here. To the extent that Ile-Rien, the setting of this book, has a historical analogue, it's something rather more like 18th or perhaps 19th century France - full of the exquisite yet poisonous manners and maneuverings of Society and the cutthroat crime and desperation of the underclasses alike. This book is full of exciting action, the uncovering of mysteries, twisty intrigues, and more besides.

However, by far the finest part of the novel to my mind are simply the characters themselves. Virtually every one of them is finely realized as an individual, and they and the relationships between them are such that you would never be sorry to spend more time with them getting to know them better, even as the plot races forward. Wells has managed that trick (so deceptively difficult) of making the characters she writes seem like real people in their own rights, so that they seem to take on life that goes beyond what is merely written down on paper. You can speculate as to their character, relationships, or motivations by drawing conclusions based on inference, just as one might with actual acquaintances or friends. This is not a small feat.

Probably the most one-dimensional character in the book (though Wells tries her best even here to instill something of depth and a kind of warped sense of a once-relatable - if not necessarily sympathetic - humanity to it) is the titular villain - the Necromancer. This may be owing in large part to the fact that the greater part of the book might more aptly be described as The Hunt for the Necromancer rather than anything directly leading up to his Death, and direct experience with the character is slight compared to what we get with the other major players.

You see, this villain remains shrouded in mystery for more than some little while, as our heroes - a crew of ostensible (well, and often actual) thieves led by a nobleman who in fact conspires to avenge the secret crime of a wicked Lord (you see what I meant about the intrigue?) joined later by others whose identity I won't spoil - first encounter our antagonist when their secret workings collide with his by the simple coincidence that they both happen to be robbing the same place at the same time, albeit of different things.

From there it is a matter of uncovering who or what precisely they stumbled into, as they are drawn at first more by a cycle of reaction and counter-reaction to the initial encounter than by anyone's deliberate plan into ferreting out the entity who is becoming an increasingly dangerous threat to them and, they come to realize, to the whole capital city of Vienne in which they live and operate. This villain, however, is determined to remain elusive though deadly until after its awful plans have come to fruition, and be revealed not a moment before. The journey to the final confrontation (which does not disappoint for any lack of suspense, danger, excitement or cleverness), then, is not a simple or a straightforward one - and much less a safe one.

In the end, though, matters are resolved, and Wells even manages to draw back in and conclude the initial thread of the plot against the wicked Lord in a manner that is not forced, unsatisfactory, or predictable. Again, not a small accomplishment. As I said in the beginning, this book is just a lot of fun to read, and a better adventure you would be hard-pressed to find.

To check it out for yourselves:


P.S.: And hey, look at me - actually reviewing a book that you don't have to have read a whole string of prequels to understand what's going on in it! Don't get too used to it. I don't want to spoil you.

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