The Death of the Necromancer - Martha Wells, Wells M. On an intellectual level, this novel is engaging and unusual for a fantasy. The plot unravels not in a somewhat-medieval world, as is almost a staple of the genre, but in a place and time that resonate heavily with Victorian London of Sherlock Holmes, although the geographic names are all imaginary. In that quasi-19th century, telegrams and steam trains coincide with sorcery (legal) and necromancy (illegal), and magically animated stone gargoyles kill people under the gas light.
The protagonist Nicholas fits into this milieu. Driven by his need to avenge his foster father, wrongfully accused of necromancy and executed a few years ago, Nicholas is plotting against the man responsible – Count Montesq. To bring his enemy down, Nicholas gathered a gang of criminals around him. Many of his associates have a grudge against Montesq, and almost everyone owes Nicholas his life or freedom.
Here lies my first, feeble objection to the story: all those thieves are so very noble and ready to die for their boss that the sweetness level becomes almost sugary. Fortunately, it’s counteracted by Nicholas’s relationship with his lover, actress Madeline. The relationship is supposed to be love, but it’s almost invisible. Madeline is charming and talented but she acts not as Nicholas’s sweetheart but as any of his henchmen. She is capable and insists on being involved in all his schemes, risking her life on a regular schedule, but why? Why does she do it for the man who never said he loves her and always treats her like one of the guys? My second objection arises here. I like Madeline more than any other character in the story and I feel sorry for her. Her love for Nicholas is at least tangible.
To make the story more interesting, Nicholas’s plans for revenge are interrupted, when a mad necromancer appears on the scene and starts a killing spree, terrorizing the city. That necromancer also marked Nicholas as one of his primary targets, and Nicholas doesn’t know why. To resume his vengeance against Montesq, Nicholas first must find and destroy the necromancer. But of course, the necromancer always stays one step ahead, and Nicholas always reacts instead of acting. My third objection: why is the bad guy so much smarter than the good guy? Although I’m not sure Nicholas falls under the description of a good guy? He is a criminal boss after all.
Much of the action takes place in filthy and smelly places like the sewers under the city. And Nicholas stumbles into one disaster after another, as if his luck had disappeared. If he ever had it, that is. I know it’s a literary rule to put obstacles into the hero’s way, but when everything that could go wrong does, again and again without respite, I start to wonder why Nicholas was made the hero of this story. It’s becoming frustrating after a while, when the bad guys invariably win every round.
I liked the book, really I did, don’t get me wrong. I finished it, which is praise in itself: I don’t finish books I dislike. Furthermore, the things that I like about this book – its complex plot, its descriptive scenery, its intricate interweaving of magic and science – heavily outweigh what I dislike, but I’m not going to seek another book of this author again, because what I disliked most touched me on a gut level. It’s the lack of emotional involvement: the heroes’, the author’s, and consequently, mine. When the hero is angry, the author just says it. It doesn’t reflect in his actions or words. When the heroine is afraid, the same story. I don’t feel her fear; my connection to her plight is purely cerebral: in a described situation, only a mad woman wouldn’t be afraid.

But despite everything I said above, this novel is definitely worth reading.