The Death of the Necromancer is the second of the Ile-Rien books by Martha Wells (I read The Element of Fire for the first time recently). I had actually read Necromancer before, back when I was first discovering Wells and lots of people were saying how wonderful it was. I agree, BUT I think that the Ile-Rien books actually benefit quite a bit from being read in order. So if you’re new to Martha Wells, start with Element of Fire and then go on to Necromancer. Why do I think this is important? Because the first time I read Death of the Necromancer, my reaction was a bit befuzzled: I liked it, but I didn’t quite get all the fuss. This time, I really, really liked it. I think the difference is that I read Element of Fire in between.
The plot of Necromancer is a bit like Les Miserables, if Jean Valjean was a burglar and he teamed up with Javert to fight sorcerous crime. That’s incredibly over-simplified–there’s a LOT going on here plot-wise–but it does sum up the main motivations of the protagonist. It’s also got a lot more humor than Les Mis, but then that wouldn’t be hard.
Once again, the book opens with a bang, and another house-breaking. This one is completely illegal. I think one of the reasons I like Wells’ books so much is that she knows how to begin them–we’re dropped into the middle of a situation and we have to figure out what’s happening and who these people are. It’s the mark of an author who trusts her own writing, and also trusts her readers to pick up on the clues that she’s given. (You can read this as a subtle rant against prologues, if you’d like.)
Vienne has changed over the hundred years since Elements of Fire. With the description of the city nights, I kept thinking of Whistler’s Nocturnes, or some of Renoir’s paintings. Interestingly, the timeline here made me revise my estimate of when Element of Fire takes place. It has to be a good bit later than I was thinking–the early 18th century or so. I really love settings that seem to have a life of their own, and Vienne certainly fits into that category.
Nicholas and Madeleine are the two main point of view characters, although we get a couple more through the book. I really like both of them, and how we (I, at least) have a lot of sympathy for Nicholas which gets much more complicated by the end of the book. Madeleine is less of an outwardly apparent force than, say, Kade. But I think she’s no less strong for all of that, and I suspect that in many ways she is the one who keeps the whole thing grounded enough to work. Which is a nice touch, since she’s an actress and stereotypically would be silly and flighty.
I have to admit that, as much as I liked Nicholas and Madeleine and Ronsarde and the rest, my favorite character was probably the Queen. Talk about scene stealers! I loved the way she was a bit like Elizabeth I and a bit like Queen Victoria, and just…awesome. She appears to be quiet and shy, but appearances are more than a bit deceiving.
So, lots of fun here, with plenty of serious parts to move the plot along, and incidentally create complications for the next generation. (She says, having stayed up too late finishing The Wizard Hunters last night.)
Book source: public library
Book information: Avon Eos, 1998