Friday, August 29, 2014

Book Review - Lish McBride's Necromancing the Stone

Necromancing the Stone (Necromancer Book 2) by Lish McBride
Published by: Henry Holt & Company
Publication Date: September 18th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 344 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Sam is having a hard time adjusting to his new life. If he could just have time to come to terms with what he is, then perhaps life would fall into place. But no, he has no such luxury. He hits the ground running and must come to terms with this new world he's been thrust into on the fly. His home being the home of his enemy whom he killed, if it isn't weird enough, apparently wants to kill him to return for the loss of their master. Then there's his new duties taking over from Douglas as the area Necromancer with a seat on the council, something Douglas loved and had decades to prepare for, thrust at a moments notice on Sam. Add in complications of being in love with a werewolf, trust issues with his family, and, well, it's not going to be easy. When the head of the local werewolf pack is murdered, as a man dealing in death, Sam is called in to solve the case. The death means he's lost a friend, his girlfriend, and, if he's not careful, his reputation and maybe his life. But Sam is getting very good at learning things as he goes... it's the only chance he has of survival.

People don't like change. This one fact is the only justification that I can latch onto for the tired old trope of the indestructible bad guy. At the end of every installment, be it book or movie, the erstwhile heroes triumph over evil by killing the baddie and saving the day. Or did they? Bad guys have a sad tendency not to stay dead. As Buffy says to Dracula at the end of the season five episode "Buffy vs. Dracula": "You think I don't watch your movies? Rolling her eyes. You always come back." I hate this trope. I don't care if you loved the bad guy and love the interaction with the hero and all that jazz, I don't want the bad guys to "always come back!" I want something new, something excited, not the same old villains again and again. This is why I hate daleks, cybermen, and Douglas! I despised Douglas in the first installment of Lish's Necromancer series, and even if he is stuck in that nebulous world between life and death and he's "different", well, it's not going to make me like her bringing him back, that's for sure!

Necromancing the Stone seems hell bent on trying to humanize Douglas, to make us have some empathy for him by fleshing out his backstory. Here's the thing, you can't humanize someone this evil. It's like saying that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince humanizes Voldemort! No, it doesn't. The backstory gives us insight and knowledge, but it can never absolve evil. We can get origins of evil, never justifications for evil. There are some people, some acts, that no matter what we learn or what knowledge is imparted, what they did can never be forgiven. It would be like saying Hitler had his reasons and you can kind of get where he was coming from. No! Not only does Lish take a trope I hate but she uses that trope to try to empathize with evil. By hanging her narrative off this misshapen and ill conceived structure I can never fully embrace this book, it's tired, derivative (there might be more Harry Potter then I have previously hinted), and flawed. Also Lish really needs to add some mystery, because having a backstage seat with the bad guy means having everything laid out in front of you and gives the book no driving force and makes it all sadly inevitable.

The tired tropes aren't my only issue. Sometimes you get the feeling that author's aren't connected to the world around them. It's not that they don't get cultural references or jokes, it's that they are "out of time" if you will. What do I mean by this vague statement? I mean that the jokes are old. The characters in this book are in their late teens, early twenties, and they are making jokes that make sense for my generation, people in their thirties. There is NO WAY kids of today would get jokes about the "Care Bear Stare." Or Jerry Maguire! This isn't happening. Yes I have to admit that it would be hard to tap into this younger generation and make your jokes relevant, when you, as a writer, are probably totally amused by your own writing. The thing is, you are writing this book for an audience, and that audience isn't you. Yes, we could argue that all books are written for yourself, but let's not, let's look at the realities of publishing and the fact that this is a YA book for people who don't know about Care Bears or other 80s ephemera. Go find the teens, hang out with them for a minute and get out of your own youth. Lish, you're not the only author to suffer from this disorder, look to the Veronica Mars writers, just know that it should be addressed in future works.

Yet despite all these tropes and flaws and tired jokes there's something that I just can't resist in this book. Lish has a unique sense of humor and the times when Sam is just hanging at his house with his army of attack gnomes and his nymphs and minotaur playing Frisbee in the yard, everything is oddly quirky and right and you want to live there. It's the down time in the book that she's nailed. The vignettes that lend themselves to short stories or novellas. The interaction between James and his new "masters." The inconvenience of having a chupacabra as a pet. It's the little things that are so perfect that you want to somehow have Lish find a way to translate this small scale perfection to the larger structure of the book. If she could just expand on the little moments of bliss and not lose them in the translation to plot or large action sequences she could be a force to be reckoned with... sadly she is not yet there.


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