The Death of the Necromancer

by Martha Wells

Hardcover, 1998



Call number

PS3573 .E4932



Avon Eos (New York, 1998). 1st edition, 1st printing. 359 pages. $23.00.


Nicholas Valiarde is a passionate, embittered nobleman with an enigmatic past. Consumed by thoughts of vengeance, he is consoled only by thoughts of the beautiful, dangerous Madeline. He is also the greatest thief in all of Ile-Rien . . .On the gaslight streets of the city, Nicholas assumes the guise of a master criminal, stealing jewels from wealthy nobles to finance his quest for vengeance: the murder of Count Montesq. Montesq orchestrated the wrongful execution of Nicholas's beloved godfather on false charges of necromancy-the art of divination through communion with spirits of the dead-a practice long outlawed in the kingdom of Ile-Rien.But now Nicholas's murderous mission is being interrupted by a series of eerie, unexplainable, even fatal events. Someone with tremendous magical powers is opposing him. Children vanish, corpses assume the visage of real people, mortal spells are cast, and traces of necromantic power that hasn't been used for centuries are found. And when a spiritualist unwittingly leads Nicholas to a decrepit mansion, the monstrous nature of his peril finally emerges in harrowing detail. Nicholas and his compatriots must destroy an ancient and awesome evil. Even the help of Ile-Rien's greatest sorcerer may not be enough, for Nicholas faces a woefully mismatched battle-and unthinkable horrors await the loser.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ninjapenguin
This was just... fantastic. It hit so many of my buttons for stuff I like to read. It's a gaslight fantasy mystery with crime capers and master criminals and rivals who become allies and society gossip and complex plots and action and hints of romance and chase scenes and daring escapes and really interesting magic. I thought the characters were fascinating and the city was darkly intriguing. Characters' motivations hang true throughout, and there are not one but three awesome female characters. If you've ever wondered what would happen if Professor Moriarity and Sherlock Holmes had to team up on a case, this is it. I recently read "The Lies of Locke Lamora" and this is similar but much better, in my opinion. I almost dread some movie producer coming across this, as I would hate to see this fun roller coaster of a read turned into some standard Hollywood action flick.… (more)
LibraryThing member pyanfarrrr
This is a very enjoyable heist story, set in a Victorian not-Europe with sorcery and lots of colorful, memorable characters. For the last ten years, ever since his foster father's execution, Nicholas Valiarde has assumed a criminal alter ego and pulled off high-profile thefts with the help of his little gang. Now he's close to his ultimate goal: revenge on the man who framed his foster father for necromancy. But it seems someone is using his foster father's research for an evil purpose. Nicholas and his gang have to turn their considerable talents to finding and stopping this sinister new player.

The characters get much of their appeal from archetypes--e.g. quickwitted actress, eagle-eyed investigator, antihero revenge-obsessed criminal mastermind--but they have a lot of personality, act and speak believably, and don't feel like stock characters. All their backstories are full of plot hooks and I wanted to read those stories too. I especially wanted to see more of Madele!

The setting isn't gender egalitarian, since women have only recently been admitted into universities. The cast is mostly men. I think there are only three women with names, of which Madeline is the only female main character. On the plus side, Madeline does have a very active role. I also really like that gay relationships are present but unremarkable in this society.

The story is more plot- than character-focused, and the plot is tight and self-consistent. Everything that happens is the result of a previous event (isn't that a requirement for any good plot?). And the words on the page never get in the way of the scenes. I'm only mentioning this because I read the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy first, and I had some problems with it; I felt the plot wandered and a lot of things were resolved by deus ex machina, and I also kept noticing several frequently repeated phrases. I didn't notice any of those things in The Death of the Necromancer.
… (more)
LibraryThing member pwaites
While The Death of the Necromancer is set in the same world as a prior novel by Martha Wells, it stands alone and I had no problems reading it independently of the other book. I am so glad I did read this one – The Death of the Necromancer is a wonderfully evocative gaslight fantasy novel set in another world with a time period reminiscent of the late 1800s.

Nicholas Valiarde is a nobleman who by night will assume the disguise of a master thief. He’s focused on vengeance for his late mentor, who was framed for the heinous crime of necromancy by the powerful Count Montesq. The book opens with Nicholas and his allies pulling off a heist, only to realize that someone has been there before them. Almost immediately they are catapulted into a mysterious situation involving dark magic and strange events, behind which lies an ancient evil.

Wells has an undoubted talent for world building. She brings the city and the kingdom of Ile-Rein to life. It’s an immersive experience – you really feel like you are there, wandering the streets of the city or dark catacombs beneath. While none of the world elements are particularly new (read her The Cloud Roads for that), the atmosphere and setting is exquisitely crafted.

Most of the characters are remarkably vivid and interesting. It’d be so easy for Nicholas to become an over dramatized, aghasty Batman clone, but Wells instead has Nicholas experience actual growth over the course of the story. She also manages to give life to the supporting cast. There’s Madeline, a brave young woman who has a natural talent for magic but gave it up in favor of being an actress; Reynard, a gentleman solider who’s been in disgrace since his former lover killed himself; Arisilde, a gifted but drug addled sorcerer; and Crack and Cusard, who I regrettably kept getting confused. These are the initial cast members, but some more intriguing characters are added over the course of the story. If there’s one thing I’d wish for, it’d be more female characters. Still, the book didn’t do horribly in this regard.

The Death of the Necromancer is exceptionally well written. Wells gradually reveals more information about her characters, using tiny details to let the reader build a picture of them. The suspense is high, keeping this 500 page + novel gripping.

I would highly recommend The Death of the Necromancer for anyone looking for a well written fantasy story that channels the Victorian era and contains a great cast of characters.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page.
… (more)
LibraryThing member T_K_Elliott
I first read this years ago - maybe when it first came out. It's one that's stuck with me, and when I saw the Kindle version on sale, I snapped it up.

I'm glad I did.

Some books, when you read them a second time, years later, have lost their lustre. This is not one of those books; I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time round.

So, what did I enjoy?

The Characters
All the characters are just a bit larger than life - the gentleman-thief, the actress, the sorcerer, the great detective, and so on - but not so much so that it disturbed the enjoyment of the story. They felt real - they lost their tempers, sniped at each other, and made mistakes.

The Plot
There's an awful lot of running around, and a fair number of corpses. To be fair, I think the actual plot was the weakest point of the story, because there were a few holes in it, and things just got wrapped up a bit too neatly and too quickly at the end, but...

The Setting
I think this probably the main reason why Death of the Necromancer stayed with me for so many years. Wells writes the city of Ile-Rien vividly enough that I could see the dark, foggy streets in my head. It had weight and depth - it felt real.

Thinking on, this is the book by which I measure all other gaslight fantasy.
… (more)
LibraryThing member iayork
One of the best, most entertaining book I've read!!!: This book is brilliant. There is almost nothing in it that I didn't like or that I skipped over. In fact, this may well just be one of my favorite books ever. Yes, it was that good.

First of all is the plot. It never got boring and it never stalled. From chapter one the ride takes off and it doesn't stop until the very end. As the book opens we find ourselves in one of the most lavished mansions where a ball is taking place. Unbeknownst to the attendants, not one but two robberies are occurring simultaneously in that very house. As luck would have it, Nicholas and his friends have a rather nasty run in with a ghoul sent by a powerful necromancer and they barely manage to escape.

From that moment on their lives are complicated beyond belief as they try to put their well thought out plan to bring down the ruthless man who is responsible for Nicholas father's execution as well as trying to escape the clutches of the mad wizard who is after them.

The other thing I loved about this book were the characters. Nicholas is one of the most genuine heroes I've come across in a very long time. Ever since his father was executed he has spent his life building a double persona. One is of a respectable nobleman whom everyone knows as Nicholas Valiarde, son of the late scientist Edouard Viller. The other is Ile-Rien's infamous underworld crime-lord Donatien. He is very adept at keeping the two personalities separated to everyone but his closest friends and allies: Madeleine and Reynard. Only they can see how his vendetta is slowly consuming him and the lines between his two personalities are beginning to blur.

Nicholas comes across effectively as a tortured hero without going over the top. His is a quiet manner yet you never have a doubt that he is anything but a doomed man because of his obsession with revenge. I loved the way that Wells portrays him. Not once does the author trying to convince you the man is tortured or that he is the very best at what he does overwhelm you. It's there in the way he acts or thinks or the way others see him.

Another treat was Madeleine who quickly became one of my favorite heroines. The woman doesn't have one TSTL moment. Ever. Not once does she make a rash and stupid decision. Not once does she falter and wait for everyone to come to her rescue because she got into trouble. She actually thinks before she acts, she is good under pressure and she doesn not doubt the Nicholas' abilities. At the same time you feel the love and the bond she shares with him even without having to read pages of the two declaring their love for one another. I thought this was one of the best things about the novel.

The secondary characters are all brilliant as well. From Nicholas opium addicted wizard friend to his seemingly debauched allied Reynard to even his bodyguards. They all fit their roles perfectly without fading in the background.

The villains are amazing as well. Wells doesn't shy away from showing you just how evil these people really are and that's what makes the danger to our heroes all the more believable.

The one thing I found somewhat lacking is the way in which one of the two villains meets his end. We are lead on a wild chase and the suspense builds up only to be over and done with in the blink of an eye. I would have liked to see exactly what happened but I was satisfied with the way the other, and more important villain, met his demise.

One last thing to note is the setting in which the story takes place. I am a sucker for steampunk type stories where the settings are reminiscence of Victorian, Edwardian or turn of the century Europe. Ile-Rien reminds you of an 18th century alternate France where wizards and magic are a common sight. I absolutely loved it and Wells does a helluva job painting each scene so vividly you feel you are practically there.

This is damn near perfect and I dare say anyone that enjoys a good story will be glued to the book until the very end. A wonderful, wonderful ride.

I give it a solid 5 out of 5!
… (more)
LibraryThing member surreality
Didn't get past the first fifty pages because the prose was so incredibly purple. This may, however, be the fault of the German translation. Wouldn't be the first time.
LibraryThing member bruce_krafft
I like the characters. Nicholas seeks to get back at the evil count who orchestrated the execution of his foster father. He brings a small group of people together in this common cause - the destruction of Count Montesq. They are turned away from this goal when events interrupt their mission, ghouls in basements, violent deaths and mysterious illness.… (more)
LibraryThing member wealhtheowwylfing
Disappointing. The characters were lame at best (I did like the opium-addict magician), and the main character’s angst-ridden past and romance were boring and stiffly written. Even the plot didn’t hold my interest. Read her other books instead. This is a precursor to a trilogy, set in the same world...we'll see.
LibraryThing member LongDogMom
I enjoyed it, but found it a very slow read
LibraryThing member Herenya
Set a hundred years after The Element of Fire, this is a complicated and compelling mystery, with characters who try to conceal just how deeply they care.

Nicholas Valiarde wants revenge on the man responsible for orchestrating the wrongful arrest and execution of Nicholas’s foster-father on charges of necromancy. Nicholas has taken on the identity of a underworld figure and gathered a somewhat disreputable team around him, but, with the final goal in sight, they uncover disturbing evidence that someone in the gas-lit city is practicing necromancy.

I took a long time to feel properly emotionally invested, partly because these characters are more inclined to toss off lighthearted comments or tell each other not to “be so damned sentimental” than wallow in emotion. But as the story progresses, it becomes obvious how much they care about justice and about each other. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more focus on emotions (especially in regards to Nicholas relationship with Madeline, and to having to work with someone they had both long considered an enemy -- so much potential!) But this still is an excellent story. Just one with slightly different narrative priorities to me.

“That’s true.” The Queen slumped back in her chair suddenly, frowning. “I’d forgotten.”
Thank you, Doctor Uberque, for a thorough grounding in the history of court law, Nicholas thought, though he didn’t believe for a moment the Queen had forgotten that obscure fact. It was like watching Madeline play a role, only underneath it all Madeline was basically harmless and the Queen was anything but. The woman uses candor like a loaded pistol. He still thought her courtiers probably mocked her, but if they did it within her hearing, they probably didn’t do it twice.
… (more)
LibraryThing member dwhapax
Enjoyable. I liked the characters and appreciated that the woman never needed to be 'rescued', etc. Didn't make me think about things in a new way, though.
LibraryThing member Mintypink
With prose as rich in detail as the surroundings she describes, Martha Well’s fictional Ile-Rien that is the setting for The Death of the Necromancer, seems the perfect backdrop to a very elaborate plot. It seems French in origin but the reader would get lost if he/she attempted to assign modern day countries to their fantasy counterparts in this novel. Indeed, it would be easy to become overwhelmed in such a novel but Wells is an expert at introducing her characters and scenery. When the scenes are set in places with great architecture, however, the vocabulary becomes slightly esoteric.
Wells engages all senses of the body as she takes you through this mystery. It may not be a self-categorized genre, but because the reader must follow the characters, we don’t know anything that hasn’t already been revealed to our protagonists. Madeline Denare is introduced to us first and while she is an incredibly interesting and potentially complex character, she plays a supporting role to Nicholas Valiarde. Captain Reynard Morane, a military man to complete our trio, is another supporting character. Their interactions are so believable that it would be hard not to connect with them.
Nothing is what it seems in this novel. Enemies exist at every level, and throughout the pages the struggles between good and evil, political enemies, and friends that seems like opponents, play out in extraordinary detail. Ghouls and other revenants decorate the plot for our enjoyment.
The Death of the Necromancer could be considered an adventure, but that wouldn’t do it justice. It is a shrouded in mystery as our protagonist Nicholas is. It is full of magic, political intrigue, and the ever elusive je ne sais pas that compels readers to devour each page and hungrily flip to the next.
… (more)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

359 p.; 6.75 inches


0380973340 / 9780380973347
Page: 2.0767 seconds