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The Death of the Necromancer
by Martha Wells
The Death of the Necromancer is an intelligent fantasy set in the fictional city of Vienne. It takes place two hundred years after the events of Martha Wells' first novel, The Element of Fire, but it is an entirely independent story.
Nicholas Valiarde is a master criminal obsessed with destroying the aristocrat who framed his foster father for the capital crime of necromancy. His carefully laid plans for revenge begin to go awry when he is attacked by a ghoul while burgling a Duchess's cellars. The attack seems to be connected to mysterious corpses that are turning up in the river. Dead bodies are common in Vienne, but these bear gruesome evidence that someone is practicing necromancy in the city. Necromancy has been outlawed in Vienne for centuries, but sorcery is common, and Nicholas's mysterious enemies soon turn deadly magic against him.
Nicholas's close-mouthed manner and established history make him a difficult character to warm up to, but he is surrounded by likeable companions with checkered pasts. They include a disgraced cavalry officer, a popular stage actress, and a sorcerer who would be formidable if only he weren't tanked to the gills on opium. Their chief enemy is Inspector Ronsarde, a thinly disguised Sherlock Holmes figure complete with Dr. Watson.
Martha Wells marvelously depicts Vienne as a gently crumbling city, lit by gaslight and shrouded by fog. Its underside is shown as much detail as its surface, as Nicholas pursues his enemies through the theater district and the houses of the beau monde, and is pursued in turn through cellars, sewers, and catacombs.
The mystery is rather gruesome but not very engrossing; it's the excellent character interaction and the quasi-Victorian setting that make The Death of the Necromancer worth seeking out.
-- Christina Schulman.
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