RogerBW's Blog

The Death of the Necromancer, Martha Wells 05 July 2023

1998 gaslamp fantasy. Nicholas Valiarde is a nobleman turned thief, obsessed by his revenge plan against the villainous Count Montesq. But now someone who seems too powerful to be the common con-artist he looks like is interfering with that…

This isn't exactly a sequel to The Element of Fire, but it's set in the same world a hundred years later, and there are small joys for the reader of both - like the Queen Ravenna Memorial, or the significance of Nicholas's original family name. Not spotting them won't compromise the enjoyment of this book, however.

He didn't want Montesq executed for a crime the man had actually committed. That would ruin the whole point of the thing.

It's something of a classic caper team, with the mastermind (Nicholas), the second in command (Lamane), the face (Madeline the actress), the safecracker (Cusard), the heavy (Crack), and the backup (Reynard the disgraced cavalry officer). They don't have a sorcerer, though Nicholas is friendly with one who spends most of his time in opium dreams, but neither does their opposition. Apparently.

"Everset used to be invited to court, but then there was that gambling scandal with the son of the Viscount Rale, so he's a member of the fringe at best, now. He's stark raving wealthy, though, which keeps him in company."

So there are lots of midnight acrobatics and coach chases, cunning schemes involving smoke bombs and someone to shout "anarchists!", gradual uncovering of plots that have been festering for a decade or more. And of course the titular necromancer, who seems bent both on interfering with Nicholas's plots and on repeating the murders commited by the infamous necromancer Constant Macob…

"The sooner this is over with the better," Reynard agreed. "I'm a little confused as to how the Master Criminal of Ile-Rien ended up hot on the trail of a petty confidence man and his friend the murderer, and I was along from the first."

And to add to that – perhaps one thing too many? It could be, but for me Wells manages to keep all the balls in the air – the Holmesian Inspector Ronsarde and his sidekick Doctor Halle, on the trail of the master criminal Donatien (Nicholas), but worryingly independent when his superiors try to tell him what to think.

He wasn't grateful, he was homicidal. It wasn't enough that they endanger his friends and servants, they had to attack his most valued enemy as well.

The plot is perhaps slightly too slender a reed for all the ornamentation and character development it's asked to bear, but there's the same sense of fun and adventure that's in The Element of Fire, and at the same time a setting that feels deep and historical.

Cusard gaped at her. "Since when do you know how to set a charge?"

"You're going to show me how before we go."

Cusard closed his eyes, apparently in silent prayer. "Oh, no."

I love it. This on its own justifies my determination to read all the Wells I missed between The Element of Fire and Murderbot.

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