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The Necromancer’s Daughter

December 5, 2022

The necromancy begins, as it always does, with an unbearable loss and the overwhelming desire to bring someone back from the land of death, no matter what the cost. The Necromancer’s Daughter, by D. Wallace Peach, adds a nice twist to this beginning; when the person with the overwhelming desire is forced to meet the reality of death’s finality, he is twisted into a religious fanatic dedicated to stamping out necromancy.

So I couldn’t read The Necromancer’s Daughter with the same moralistic attitude I usually bring to such works of fiction. In this novel, necromancy is a continuation of healing—it can be done as long as the person is only “mostly dead,” as Miracle Max says of Westley in The Princess Bride.

The necromancer, Barus, has learned necromancy from a chapter in a book left to him by his foster mother, a healer and necromancer. The chapter he finds is titled “Necromancy: The Summoning, Manipulation, and Resurrection of the Dead.” The narrator says that “the practice was ancient and varied, from divining the wisdom of the departed to summoning spirits, invoking ghostly visions, and raising the dead in bodily form.” We learn that there’s a warning against “demons masquerading as returned souls” and one of the rules limits ressurrection to three days after death, which Barus considers “reasonable—before the spread of irreversible decay.”

Barus is summoned from his rural home by the King because the Queen is dying in childbirth. He worries about the attempt he must make, having never brought a person back to life—“what if he failed? What if the queen returned with a deficiency or illness, or her body responded but not her mind?”

The Vicar of the Red Order argues with the King about necromancy, saying “I merely assert that life and death rest with the Blessed One. She decides the timing of each spirit’s journey, not men. Necromancy is evil.” The King asks “is it wicked to purge poisons from the blood or heal a wound? Is it evil to breathe life into a child who’s drowned? Or cure a festering infection in a swordsman’s jaw?” The vicar replies that “those bodies still possess the spark of life.”

The queen persuades the king to let her go and try to save the baby, but when the physician cuts it from her body, the baby is also dead. The king changes his mind about having summoned Barus, saying “let them die in peace….Send the necromancer home.” But Barus has seen the dead baby and takes it home with him, where he rationalizes about what he wants to do, asking “how might gifting life to a dead child be wicked?” He decides it is not, and brings the dead baby back to life.

All of this is preface, told in the first 38 pages; the king’s dead baby grows up as Aster, the necromancer’s daughter, who can see dead souls, as “necromancy had granted her father an ability to see spirits, but her vision had surfaced naturally, the essence of the dead quiet and familiar.” Her father teaches her that “necromancy comes with unreasonable demands, and people don’t understand what is possible or fathom the risks. Even the most judicious of men are intolerant of failure when their hearts are entwined with the dead. Necromancy isn’t wrong, but neither is it wise.”

Aster’s adventures begin when her father the king comes to claim her, saying to Barus that “when you cured her of death, I should have claimed her as my own.” But he is assassinated by the man who is now Vicar of the Red Order, a man who has been twisted into a religious fanatic and is determined to stamp out necromancy. Aster is forced to flee the kingdom with his son Joreh, who has been brought up to believe that what she can do is wrong. She gradually wins him over with arguments and actions, at one point telling him that “my father used to compare necromancy to restoring life to a drowned man whose breath had ceased. Why is one healing of death different from another? Would the Blessed One want every drowned child to die, though we possessed the skill to save some of them?” She makes it sound a little like that old joke about the guy on the roof during a flood, turning down offers of help from people in boats and waiting for the Lord to save him.

Aster and Joreh travel through a land called Catticut, which Joreh believes is inhabited by savages. Aster subdues a dragon who has just killed a man and saves him from death, revealing to Joreh that her necromancy depends on the ingestion of poison, making it dangerous for the practitioner if performed too often. Joreh struggles with his attraction to Aster, thinking that “his feelings had evolved from religious righteousness into friendship and a glimmer of something deeper” and learning that she regards each lost opportunity for necromancy as “immoral, sinful.” Eventually, of course, Joreh dies and she brings him back, whereupon he tells her ”you shouldn’t have saved me” and she responds that she loves him so “how could I not?”

With the help of her maternal relatives, rulers of a kingdom who can communicate with dragons, Aster and Jorah save her father’s kingdom from assassins and religious fanatics and set out to join Barus in a new kingdom. But before they can live happily ever after, Barus and Joreh have to bring Aster back to life once again because she’s been poisoned. Like a homosexual who has been taught that how he feels is wrong, Joreh finally embraces the newly-revived Aster, saying “you taught me that an act of love can’t be evil.”

An afterword reveals that The Necromancer’s Daughter is a retelling of a tale from Chinese mythology, the legend of Kwan-yin, who becomes the goddess of mercy. It’s an interesting take on necromancy, to see it as a mercy. This novel succeeds in getting that take across because of the richness of its characterizations and the skillful pacing of the plot.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2022 6:56 am

    Ooh, interesting — a new take on necromancy indeed! Necromancy as the slogan “love wins”, I’m into it. That said, an act of love can tooootally be evil and we should talk about that more — I think an act of love being evil is kind of the whole thesis of the Locked Tomb trilogy (speaking of necromancy). 😛

    • December 6, 2022 7:54 am

      It does seem to be the thesis so far, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Muir gives it a twist before the end, because I think that the kind of love that inspires necromancy always leads to evil…it’s always an unbearable loss and overwhelming desire.

    • December 6, 2022 10:00 am

      Thanks, Jenny, for taking the time to read the review. I love your comment, and of course… You’ve piqued my interest in the Locked Tomb trilogy. Have a great day and Happy Reading.

  2. December 6, 2022 9:58 am

    Thanks so much for the review, Jeanne. I’m glad the twist on necromancy worked in the story. I wanted to turn preconceived notions on their heads as a commentary on biases. (My mom wouldn’t read the story because “necromancers are cannibals.” How’s that for unsubstantiated judgment? Lol). Thanks again for reading and for taking the time to pull together your thoughts. Much appreciated. 🙂

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