Martha Wells: The Death of the Necromancer (Paperback, 1999, Eos) 4 stars

Nicholas Valiarde is a passionate, embittered nobleman with an enigmatic past. Consumed by thoughts of …

Review of 'The Death of the Necromancer' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

An impressive Victorian-ish second-world fantasy. A bit of a caper, a bit of a mystery story... a difficult book to classify, but well worth reading

A reader recommended this to me as being similar to my second book, and so I thought I'd better figure out if that was a compliment or not! I'm pleased to report that I'm entirely flattered by the comparison, as Wells does an impressive bit of storytelling.

I was a little worried jumping in at the second book, but I needn't have been, since it works well as a stand-alone story. The world is one of magic and wizardry, but somewhat institutionally controlled and limited by wards. There's also an interesting split between the male practitioners of magic and the female ones which is observable but not commented upon... I'm not sure if that's more elaborate in the previous book, but it was interesting if subtle facet of this one that fit well with the Victorian styling of the rest of the book.

The hero is something of a criminal underworld figure, but generally a resident of the upper classes, with a fancy home and an army of underlings which feels fitting to stories of the period. The courtly intrigue was also an interesting sideline to the investigation/caper, but not a dominant point of the narrative.

Like I said, it's hard to pin down exactly what the story is, because there are far more things it isn't... which, if anything, I feel is a strong point in its favor. It's a unique tale, with strong characters and an interesting setting. I haven't decided whether to go backwards and read the first book, or forwards to the next (or perhaps sideways to something else -- Wells has a lot of interesting looking sci-fi stories too!), but I'm impressed by the author and her work.

It's hard to rate this... I feel it's marginally less than a 5, because while it was busy with plot and crowded with the sort of setting details I love... but at the same time, some ineffable aspect of those things felt off. I think perhaps one may have crowded the other? I'm not sure... I felt I wanted more of certain aspects of the setting, but I'm not sure what from the story I'd have traded back to have those, so perhaps it's something else. The early pacing seemed to lag a little, but that's a common aspect of mystery stories, and the wind-up towards the end made all that pay off. Something was amiss, but since it's the second book, perhaps it was something amply supplied by its predecessor, so I'm disinclined to mark it down here.