Book Review: The Death of the Necromancer

Synopsis: Nicolas Valiarde has a complicated life. To the world he presents himself as a high society recluse and art dealer. In reality, he is the mastermind thief, Donatien, who has stolen several priceless objects while staying barely one step ahead of the formidable Inspector Ronsarde and his companion Dr. Halle. Nicolas manages this by being very smart, very careful, and very rich in compatriots: his lover Madeline, an actress of no mean talent; his friend Reynard, a former cavalry officer who disgraceful exit from service was arranged by a mutual enemy; the powerful wizard Arisilde, whose opium addiction has reduced him to a shade of his former glory; and a crew of loyal criminals in his employ.

The story opens with Nicolas and his crew stealing a vault of gold from the cellars of a noble household while a large ball is taking place over their heads. The gold is meant to be planted elsewhere to incriminate his enemy, the lord framed Nicolas’ patron, Edouard, years earlier on the charge of necromancy. And though Edouard was exonerated of the charge, it is a posthumous exoneration after his execution. The lord who arranged these events is never convicted nor publicly suspected. Which is why Nicolas wants him so badly. 

But it turns out Nicolas is not the only thief prowling the cellars that same evening, and his path unfortunately crosses with that of a very powerful foe who cannot be ignored.

Review: Martha Wells writes fantasy action/adventure novels in the style of her accidental namesake H. G. Wells, but she does so with the sensibilities of a modern author writing to a modern audience.

The Death of the Necromancer takes place in a city something like 19th century London – the resemblances between Inspector Ronsarde and Sherlock Holmes are hardly accidental, and the very strong, independent character of Madeline must work within the limitations of societal gender roles – and yet it is also a world in which wizardry and fayre combine with gaslights, revolvers, and horse-drawn carriages to create the perfect fantasy milieu. Not quite steam punk, not quite Victorian or Gothic romance, not at all LARP thief epic or zombie horror tale, this story borrows from all to create something new and unique.

When the book opens, Nicolas is in the middle of a complicated plot to bring down his nemesis, but this motive must be set aside to fulfill a more compelling filial duty. His new opponent is using a device, invented by his patron, to commit unspeakable crimes, and Nicolas must stop him. It is not so much that Nicolas possesses moral scruples (or so he believes) as that he is greatly angered by this foul appropriation of his patron’s great work. Nicolas is the iconic gentleman thief, but he possesses no predilection for magic, which puts him at a severe disadvantage. He will need all his considerable talents not only to combat this dark magician, but merely to stay alive. It won’t be enough. He will require the help of his friends, especially his partner Madeline, and a few unexpected allies who show up from time to time.

There book is pure adventure story with humor, suspense, and several surprises that you will not see coming. I would recommend it for any lover of speculative fantasy fiction. While there are shades of romance, there is no explicit sex, though parents be warned before giving this your child. As the title suggests, there are reanimated dead people and just enough gore that I would think twice from recommending the book to a child. This is not a horror book by any means, and the author wisely refrains as much as possible from lurid, grotesque detail. You will not likely get nightmares from The Death of the Necromancer, but you can expect several sleepless nights staying up late reading.

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