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The Death of the Necromancer
Martha Wells
HarperCollins EOS Books, 368 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
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SF Site Review: The Death of the Necromancer

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A review by Donna McMahon

Nicholas Valiarde leads a double life. During the day he is the leisured and embittered young heir of Doctor Edouard Viller, a renowned metaphysician who was executed ten years ago on false charges of necromancy. At night he is Donatien, master criminal and man of disguises. Donatien has become the city's foremost thief, but his career is only a cover for Valiarde's real purpose -- to destroy the evil Count Montesq, the man who destroyed his father.

The Death of the Necromancer opens with Nicholas and his friends breaking into the cellar of a noble house, only to find that someone else has been there before them. But when Nicholas tracks down his competition, rather than finding other thieves he uncovers evidence that an insane necromancer is trying to build magic of monstrous evil in the catacombs under the ancient city of Vienne. Should he pursue the murderous necromancer at the expense of his long-planned revenge on Montesq? Or can he risk giving his information to the shrewd policeman, Inspector Ronsarde, who has already guessed too much about Donatien?

It's relatively easy to convey the plot of Necromancer, but far more difficult to describe the extraordinary texture of its setting. The city of Vienne has an Italian Renaissance flavour, plus nineteenth century technology, hints of Victorian England, and even whiffs of A Tale of Two Cities and The Tempest. From this seemingly improbable mix of historical and fantasy elements, Martha Wells creates a stunningly vivid society, from the gauche suburban mansions of the nouveau riche, to the drafty, severe elegance of the palace, to the festering alleys of Riverside. And throughout, magic is seamlessly interwoven in the technology, history and culture.

Wells' characters are equally compelling: among them Nicholas, who is a gentle man with a dark streak of rage; Madeline, the ambitious actress who lives with him; Reynard, the disgraced but proud army officer; and Crack, the tough, terse henchman. And there are many more, none of them forgettable.

Still, Necromancer's most impressive feature may be its complex, twisting plot and swift pacing, which kept me glued to the pages. In fact, my only criticism of this book is that the conclusion doesn't have as much emotional punch as it could have. Wells still needs to learn how to write a last chapter that leaves her readers laughing, crying, and begging for more.

Still, this is a terrific novel. Wells is in a league with top writers like Lois McMaster Bujold and Barbara Hambly; I'll be waiting impatiently for her next book.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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