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The Death of the Necromancer
Martha Wells
Avon EOS Books, 368 pages

A review by Wayne MacLaurin

Take a great Sherlock Holmes novel, mix in a heavy dose of Steven Brust's Jhereg, and you'll have some idea of what you can expect from The Death of the Necromancer.

Martha Wells' first two novels, The Element of Fire and City of Bones, were praised for their rich detail and original concepts. The Death of the Necromancer raises those two points to new levels and adds characterization that is every bit as rich and passionate as the details of the fantasy world. It's a stunning achievement that is utterly captivating, effortlessly drawing the reader into the story.

The setting is a gaslit European continent that has familiar sounding names (Vienne, Lodun) and comes complete with steam engines and revolvers. But magic works and sorcerers walk the streets of the cities, have a great university and hold positions of power at the courts. Other differences, like the existence of the Unseelie Court and the great Kingdom of Ile-Rien, also help to ensure that the reader doesn't slip and mistake this for a mere Holmes clone.

The plot revolves around Nicholas Valiarde, a disgraced nobleman, consumed with the desire to revenge the wrongful death of his godfather. He also happens to be the greatest thief in all of Ile-Rien (a helpful talent which, I am sure you can see, would significantly help with those late night prowls around your arch-enemy's estate). However, life is not all fun and revenge. Valiarde is constantly trying to keep one step ahead of Inspector Ronsarde, the darling of the good-guys and a pretty good tribute to Conan Doyle's legendary detective.

Valiarde's revenge starts getting interrupted by a series of increasingly bizarre, unexplainable events. Somebody, or something, with significant magical ability begins to oppose him. More chilling is the obvious taint of necromancy -- and necromancy is an art that has been outlawed for centuries.

The Death of the Necromancer is a great tale but its real strengths are the stunningly convincing detail and the wealth of characters. Aside from Valiarde and Ronsarde, Wells introduces the reader to characters who range from the greatest sorcerer in Ile-Rien (assuming he can be awakened from his opium-induced dreams long enough to be coherent) to Doctor Octave, a self-proclaimed mystic who seems to be just a really good con-artist... or is he...? Wells keeps the reader uncertain about who is who and which is what.

The Death of the Necromancer is a fabulous read and earns my vote for "Most Exciting New Book of the Summer!"

Copyright © 1998 by Wayne MacLaurin

Wayne MacLaurin is a regular SF Site reviewer. More of his opinions are available on our Book Reviews pages.

The Death of the Necromancer
Martha Wells
Martha Wells was born in 1964 in Fort Worth and graduated from Texas A&M University with a B.A. in Anthropology. Her first novel, The Element of Fire, published in 1993, was a finalist for the Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Award and a runner-up for the 1994 Crawford Award. Her second novel, City of Bones, was published in 1995. Martha Wells works part-time as a programmer/database developer. She lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband and cats.

Martha Wells Website
ISFDB Bibliography

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