THE DEATH OF THE NECROMANCER is an almost pitch-perfect fantasy novel by Martha Wells.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Martha Wells, but I’m sure I’ll read many more of her books. There are several reasons why:
First, it is rare to find a fantasy that focuses on the central characters’ psychological motivations and moral quandaries. As I’ve said in my How to Write Fantasy series, character really matters, and this novel delivers in spades. The Death of the Necromancer certainly delivers rich characterizations by painting a very complex and interesting protagonist — in Nicholas Valiarde — who has a complicated past, a clear motive for revenge, and a future that his both morally hazy and startling in its vision. Martha Wells paints him really well, as well as a number of secondary characters, who are also given fully fleshed motivations, behaviors and backhistories. What a blessing in a fantasy novel!
Secondly, the neo-Victorian steampunk world of Ile-Rien is beautifully described in all its squalor, pre-industrial beauty and its London-like atmosphere is precisely on target for this novel. Yet the backhistory of the place does not seem to overtake the story (as in Game of Thrones) because it is hinted at, rather than explicitly displayed. (I’ve written more about this technique here.) Wells’ treatment of the history of this world is similar in this regard to Tolkien’s careful work in illuminating just enough of his story’s backhistory to make it real.
Third, the use of the supernatural is welded firmly into the fabric of the world, rather than feeling bolted on as an after-thought. Magic is not trivial, but neither is it overwhelming in its force or abilities. It is poorly understood, but used by those who have studied long and hard. I like Martha Wells’ treatment of magic in this novel, almost more than any other recent fantasy novel I’ve read.
Finally, the relationships between the characters and their varied motivations, end up leading to a powerful climax and a confrontation with evil that takes all of the threads that Wells has woven, and knits them together into a nearly seamless whole. I found myself compelled to keep reading.
I truly enjoyed this fantasy novel… and I highly recommend it!