The Death of the Necromancer - only a criminal mastermind can stop this killer

  • Posted on: 6 December 2019
  • By: Sevhina

Nick is Nicholas Valiarde, a moderately wealthy gentleman who dabbles in the art trade and lives in an old mansion with his actress mistress. He is also Donatien, a notorious underworld crime boss who pulls off cunning heists while staying one step ahead of the law. Ironic, since he once attended the university and studied law. But all of that simply covers his real motivation, getting revenge on the nobleman who framed his adopted father for necromancy. Edward Valiarde wasn't even a sorcerer, but money convinced the police, magistrate, and jury that he was a necromancer. By coincidence Nick crosses paths with something that looks like real necromancy and before long he is reminded why it is punishable by death. Tracking this killer will see him working with the inspector who arrested Edward, trying to save the Queen, and using all his skill just to stay alive. But in the midst of all this death and mayhem can Nicholas finally get justice for his beloved father?

Death of the Necromancer has the feel of Oceans Eleven crossed with Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes in a fantasy setting with magic. On his side, Nick has a brilliant sorcerer with a bad opium addiction, an actress with untrained magic, a scandalous cavalry officer, and a police inspector they broke out of jail. Although the subject and tone of the book is fairly serious overall, the ensemble cast gives it plenty of witty lines and buddy comedy moments. Nick becomes involved in events through an accident of timing, yet everything is delicately connected on a level that solidifies him as a person. For example, these ritualistic murders remind him of something he once read, which leads to a book with information on the killings, but also adds to the evidence of Edward's innocence. There are gory serial killings, although Jack the Ripper never killed this many, and Inspector Ronsarde with Doctor Halle are obviously based on Holmes and Watson. 

I read this back in 1998 when it was first published, and again recently when it was published in E-book form. I only recalled that I had liked it and it got nominated for the Nebula Award. This is still a satisfying and entertaining read and compared to other Martha Wells books I've read over the years it is my favorite. It's an unusual beast in fantasy writing, a stand alone story that ties up all of the hints and side plots in one book. Death of the Necromancer is followed in timeline some 20 years later by the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy about Nick's daughter. Unfortunately, and fortunately both, those books have an entirely different feel. There is also another stand alone novel set in Ile-Rien called the Element of Fire that takes place much earlier.

Derek Perkins is the narrator for the Audible book with a long list of 5 star credits behind him. I was surprised to see a couple of reviews describe the pace as slow, I never noticed it dragging out.