The Death of the Necromancer
The Death of the Necromancer is a tale of revenge, magic and thievery set in a fantastical version of the Victorian era. The story stars Nicholas Valiarde, a somewhat honorable criminal mastermind who has a vendetta with a local noble who wronged, and possibly murdered, his father. Nicholas’ co-conspirator in this adventure is Madeline, a washed out sorceress-turned-actress who uses her talent for disguises to help him along. Yet Nicholas’ scheme for vengeance turns sour when he crosses paths with a powerful necromancer. As things delve into the dark arts of forbidden magics, the characters must strive to outsmart their opponents by any means necessary.
I have to say, Martha Wells really has a knack for creating colorful characters. In this story, the main protagonist is a rather gray character. Nicholas isn’t some noble do-gooder, a simple detective, or a talented magician. Rather, he’s a thief. Of course he’s a very good thief. At this point in his life, Nicholas has amassed a little criminal empire of informants and skilled tradesman who can help him break into almost any building or uncover nearly any piece of valuable information. His lover and co-conspirator in crime is Madeline, who plays a sizable role in the story. Now since Nicholas has no magical abilities whatsoever, you might expect Madeline to be some overpowered sorceress who balances him out. But the story avoids such predictability. Madeline did have a talent for magic, but instead of pursuing it, she decided to be an actress. Thus she can’t perform any handy spells, yet she can whip up a nice disguise or infiltrate enemy territory.
Still, the main characters do get some help from the magically inclined. You also couldn’t ask for a better example of how Martha adds flavor to her characters. Nicholas and Madeline’s magical ally is one of the most powerful sorcerers in the land…at least when he’s sober. Arisilde is indeed powerful, but for reasons the book will explain, he’s also a helpless opium addict whose gone a bit mad and has a hard time remembering things or keeping focus. When he has his wits, he’s unstoppable. Unfortunately for him, that’s a rare occurrence. As a reader, I thought it was great. It balances the story out while adding a immense measure of fun. And there are plenty of other great characters too, each with their own distinct personalities.
As for the story, it has a bit of a Sherlock Holmes feel with a touch of Edgar Allan Poe. There are detective-mystery threads and there are also darker elements involving necromancy and ghoulish creatures. Plus it all has a Victorian era feel to it. The characters ride around in horse drawn carriages, streets are lit by gas lamps and people arm themselves with pistols. The world building takes a backseat to the characters and the plot, but it’s more than sufficient to keep things easy to understand. There are mentions of the fay, ghouls, sorcerers, witches and magic early on, but the story takes its time in slowly seeding those elements into the plot. The build up works well, and once it gets rolling, it’s hard to stop. Criminal schemes become struggles to stay alive. Sorcery is pitched against sorcery. Plans fall to pieces and chaos ensues amid intertwining plots. It’s a lot of fun.
If you like good stories that include a touch of fantasy combined with great characters, The Death of the Necromancer is definitely a story worth checking out. I typically don’t read stories in this kind of setting, but Martha Wells created such compelling characters that it was easy to get into and enjoy. It’s also worth noting that this book takes place in the same setting as The Element of Fire, but several hundred years later. I haven’t read the other book yet, or any of the other books in Martha Well’s Ile-Rien series, so I can definitely say readers can enjoy this book on it’s own. I give it a five out of five metal bikinis.