By Christopher Buehlman
Available now from Ace (Penguin Random House)
THE NECROMANCER'S HOUSE wasn't what I was expecting. It's more of a revenge thriller with magic than a horror novel. It's a great success on that front, with two opposing forces with great reason to hate each other. It keeps picking up steam as it goes, until it reaches a unique and intriguing ending.
That's the best thing about THE NECROMANCER'S HOUSE, I think. It's unafraid to take strange turns and reveal unexpected information. The protagonist, Andrew Ranulf Blankenship, is the eponymous necromancer. He might be the good guy, but he's no stand up moral citizen. But no one would protest that Baba Yaga is not the consummate bad guy. (Baba Yaga is having a real year in literary fiction, isn't she?) These are two people willing to go to bizarre lengths to end the other.
But I'm not totally in love with THE NECROMANCER'S HOUSE. The story continually emphasizes that Anneke is a lesbian but Andrew is totally in love with her, which is weird, and also Andrew is still as pretty as a girl and super vain, and I got it the first ten times. Then there's the two moments of true horror in the novel, used to emphasize that anyone can die. The longer one tends to veer into silly, particularly because it violates a couple of magic rules the story mentions before and (immediately) after the scene. It ends with an indelible image, but not before the bad guy thinks about the incredibly easy way the good guy could have won the fight. Maybe it's just me, but it doesn't make things scarier for people to die in stupid ways.
Mostly, I just wish THE NECROMANCER'S HOUSE got to the final battle faster. The magic is inventive and it's fun to watch a bunch of tough characters battle it out. If only there were less interminable passages spent with Andrew lusting after someone who isn't interested. Anneke is also Andrew's student and fellow former alcoholic; isn't that enough of an emotional relationship to explore? As it was, I ended up caring more about the relationship between Andrew and his dog-turned-wooden-manservant. (To be fair, it is a touching relationship.)
That being said, I'd happily read a sequel. The epilogue of THE NECROMANCER'S HOUSE is fascinating, an unexpected group left together to go on and enjoy their lives. THE NECROMANCER'S HOUSE was fun enough, but it's nothing I'm going to reread. The weird bits that don't work aren't much, but they left a sour taste in my mouth.