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List of books in which necromancy doesn’t pay

The kind of necromancy that never pays

Spoiler: it’s most kinds. Here’s the Oxford English Dictionary definition of necromancy:
1.a: The art of predicting the future by supposed communication with the dead; (more generally) divination, sorcery, witchcraft, enchantment.
1. b: fig. and in extended use. Something resembling necromancy in nature or effect.
2. As a count noun: an act of necromancy; (more generally) a spell.
3. With capital initial. A name formerly given to the part of the Odyssey (Book 11) describing Odysseus’ visit to Hades.
And here’s my narrower definition:
The kind of necromancy that doesn’t pay consists of trying to communicate with the dead—especially with the intent of trying to find out something about what it’s like after death–or attempting to bring the dead back to life. I don’t differentiate between different kinds of life after death (zombies, vampires, etc.) but include any kind of reanimation after which a living person remembers life before dying and experiences a changed life.

List One: necromancy never pays

The Odyssey, Homer
Odysseus must travel to the underworld and raise the spirits of the dead through the use of spells in order to find his way home.

Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe (1592)
Dr. Faustus rejects the advice of a good angel; he takes the advice of an evil angel who lures him by promising him god-like powers from the practice of necromancy.

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818)
Nothing good happens when a man experiments with the reanimation of dead tissue.

She: A History of Adventure (1886)
Ayesha is She Who Must Be Obeyed and has waited 2,000 years for her lover to come back from the dead. When he does, she takes him to walk through the fire she calls the “Spirit of Life” inside her volcano so he can live forever with her.

Dracula, Bram Stoker (1897)
Count Dracula stays undead by feeding on the blood of young women; his power is foiled by Christian symbolism.

The Monkey’s Paw, W.W. Jacobs (1902)
A wife asks her husband to use a magical object to wish their son back to life. Soon afterwards they hear a knock at the door and he is afraid to open it, realizing that their son’s body has been buried for more than a week. He suddenly understands that the thing outside is not the son they knew and loved and makes another wish so that when the door is finally opened, there is no one there.

Herbert West—Reanimator, H.P. Lovecraft (1922)
Each of Herbert West’s attempts to restart bodies after death produces results more horrifying than the last, until one of the reanimated bodies leads the others in an assault on West in revenge, and they tear him apart.

The Thing on the Doorstep, H.P. Lovecraft (1937)
“The thing” revealed at the end of the story is the narrator’s friend trapped inside his wife’s putrefying corpse, after the demonic character who possessed her has thrown it off.

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
In The Hobbit, an evil force is called the Necromancer.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)
The being formerly known as the Necromancer has now become Sauron.

The Black Cauldron, Lloyd Alexander (1965)
Arawn raises dead warriors from a black cauldron so they can fight for him.

A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. LeGuin (1968)
When Ged was young he dared to try a powerful necromantic spell and let an undead shadow loose upon the world. He must cross the threshold of death in order to restore the balance between life and death.

The Farthest Shore, Ursula K. LeGuin (1972)
Cob, a dark mage Ged defeated many years before, has learned how to cheat death and live forever, which is sucking all the life out of the world. Ged finally manages to defeat Cob by sacrificing his own magic powers.

The House With a Clock in its Walls, John Bellairs (1973)
At a crucial moment, Lewis remembers what he’s read in magic books and is able to destroy the person he brought back from the dead, along with her doomsday device.

Xanth series, Piers Anthony (Night Mare, 1983)
Jonathan, a King of Xanth, re-animates the dead.

Pet Sematary, Stephen King (1983)
A man’s cat and then his two-year-old son and his wife return from the dead as monstrous versions of their former selves.

Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling (1997)
Acts of necromancy in this series include the reanimation of Voldemort and the ability to speak with the dead using the “resurrection stone.”

American Gods, Neil Gaiman (2001)
One character is martyred and then resurrected by a god named “Easter,” and another comes back to life by means of unintential necromancy with leprechaun gold.

The Abhorsen Trilogy, Garth Nix (2003)
The necromancer’s bells are used by the Abhorsen and the Necromancers, and can either bind or raise the dead, but there are unintended consequences if the user is improperly trained.

Gil’s All Fright Diner, A. Lee Martinez (2005)
A necromancer plans to rip open a hole in the fabric of space so old gods can emerge, destroy the world, and give her powers. Her portal is in Gil’s Diner.

The Somnambulist, Jonathan Barnes (2008)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge preserved in some kind of steampunk apparatus and then reanimated is briefly amusing, until he begins to lose body parts and spew green poisonous liquid.

The Purple Emperor, Herbie Brennan (2008)
Pyrgus, the crown prince of Faerie, is about to be crowned as Purple Emperor but Pyrgus’s father, the murdered Purple Emperor, has just been raised from the dead.

The Last Olympian, Rick Riordan (2009)
Hades calls warriors back from the dead to fight Percy Jackson.

Devil’s Kiss, Sarwat Chadda (2009)
This novel mixes necromancy, Arthurian legend, and Templar mythology and tosses in a handful or two from Paradise Lost, with just a pinch of the Crusades.

I am not a Serial Killer, Dan Wells (2009)
When John discovers a demon keeping himself alive with body parts he takes from his victims, he resolves to bring him to justice.

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, Jonathan L. Howard (2009)
It’s the juxtaposition of Johannes Cabal’s obsession with regaining his own soul and bringing the dead back to life with his acute sense of morality and the ridiculousness of the situations he finds himself in that gives this novel the tension that makes it worth reading.

The Elementals, Francisca Lia Block (2012)
Ariel is flattered to be asked to join with other characters in a necromancy scheme and then it is revealed that their purpose was nefarious all along.

A Good and Useful Hurt, Aric Davis (2012)
Getting a tattoo with a dead person’s ashes in the ink allows these characters to dream about their dead loved ones as if they were still alive. When the main character ends up with a dead loved one, he goes to extraordinary lengths to get some of her ashes and make himself a tattoo. And that’s when he realizes that he also has to tattoo the ashes of everyone else her killer has killed onto himself, so the dead women in his dreams can help him find their killer.

The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker (2013)
The Jinni gives a speech against necromancy to a little boy whose mother has just died when the boy comes to him saying “bring her back!”

The Necromancer’s House Christopher Buehlman (2013)
What is the price for trying to hear the voices of the dead once again? Staying trapped in the past is the price the necromancer Andrew pays.

Ruin and Rising, Leigh Bardugo (2014)
Characters with powers called “Grisha” try to discover the secrets of an early Grisha named Morozova without uncovering the forbidden mysteries that led to his destruction.

Requiem in La Paz, Jonna Gjevre (2014)
Isobel, a concert violinist with a cursed instrument, thinks that Paulsen, a necromancer, “sees the devil as he really is” but she is wrong. Paulsen is out of his depth, trying to influence forces that he cannot possibly control.

Revival, Stephen King (2014)
What Jamie sees and hears when a preacher’s electrical device is successful at raising the dead is horrifying. It kills the preacher and brings Jamie himself to the edge of sanity, where he totters, off-balance for the rest of his days, afraid to die and find out that the horrifying glimpse he had of life beyond death is all that there is.

Cinderella Necromancer, F. M. Boughan (2017)
When Cinderella becomes a necromancer, things in the kingdom get pretty dark. A supernatural version with some good twists on the original tale.

List Two: fun with necromancy, reanimation, and resurrection

The Vampire Chronicles, Anne Rice (1976)
Louis, Lestat, Armand, and the other sentient undead learn to embrace their evil nature in Europe and New Orleans, inconvenienced only by sunlight.

Undead and Unwed series, Mary Janice Davidson (2004)
This series features some characters brought back from death by supernatural means and others by a wacky time travel/alternate universe plot which is eventually resolved. The group of friends who live with Betsy and her (undead) husband Sinclair all get to live forever by various means, and there are no terrible consequences.

Twilight series, Stephanie Meyer (2005)
A family of vampires lives on forever with little inconvenience, aside from a tendency to sparkle in sunlight.

Dead Beat, Jim Butcher (2005)
The hero, Harry, has been brought back from the dead. He learns that some would-be-necromancers are looking for a copy of a book that would give them “a new round of necro-at-home lessons to expand their talents.” When one of Harry’s friends says it doesn’t sound that bad to bring the dead back to life, he tells him “you’re assuming that what the necromancer brings them back to is better than death.”

Skinned, Robin Wasserman (2008)
When a girl from the future wakes up dead she finds that a download of her brain has been installed in an artificial body. She is essentially immortal, since a new body can be made anytime this one wears out. The people of her century don’t consider downloaded-brain people, or “skinners,” to be real people, so she struggles to fit back into her old life.

Generation Dead, Daniel Waters (2008)
What happens in a world where some teenagers have risen from the dead? In this novel, they have to learn how to live again while they struggle with prejudice from the living.
“You aren’t supposed to call them zombies….”
“Zombies, dead heads, corpsicles. What’s the difference?”
….”You could be expelled for saying things like that…You know you’re supposed to call them living impaired.”
The term “living impaired” is eventually rejected in favor of “differently biotic.”

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, Lish McBride (2010)
The hero, Sam, doesn’t actually raise anyone from the dead. That has already been done by an evil necromancer named Douglas. When Sam has learned how to harness his own necromantic gift he uses his power to help put some of them to rest again.

Die For Me, Amy Plum (2011)
A 16-year-old girl living in Paris with her grandparents and sister falls in love with a mysterious 19-year-old named Vincent. As it turns out, he’s been on earth for considerably longer than 19 years, and the only real drawback to his “condition” is that he’s dead, or “dormant” as he and his “kindred” call it, for three days every month.

Three Parts Dead, Max Gladstone (2012)
Tara is a kind of magician called a “Craftswoman” in her world. She starts her adventure by literally digging up a grave and reanimating the bodies inside it, but is then called to a city called Alt Coulumb to investigate the death of the god. This is a wild romp through eschatology, metaphysics, and the nature of justice that ends up with Tara taking some responsibility for the continuing welfare of Alt Coulumb and its inhabitants. She takes a leave of absence from the necromantic firm in order to see the life she has brought back to the god take hold, rather than just moving on to the next dead fellow someone wants brought back to life.

Deja Demon, Julie Kenner (2014)
Kate fights against demons. The person Kate brings back from the dead is her first husband Eric, who turns out to be infected with a demon even in his borrowed body.

Necromancing the Stone, Lish McBride (2015)
In this sequel to Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, Sam is successfully learning to use his necromantic power to fight for what is right. He explains to his own sister that he won’t call up their dead father because “it doesn’t really seem right, calling him up for no reason. Kind of, I don’t know, disrespectful.” By the end of this book, Sam even gets himself a tattoo to remind himself of the distinction between good and evil use of his power.

Finn Fancy Necromancy, Randy Henderson (2015)
Finn Gramaraye (whose older brother Mort once called him “Finn Fancy Necromancy Pants”) has a group of friends and family who help him fight to find out what is right and who among the dead might be ready for a good talking-to. The novel has to wrestle with the question of whether a necromancer can ever defeat death. Finn says “there’s no cure….At least, not one that doesn’t require a constant flood of raw magic and serious Monkey Paw consequences.” That never stops anyone from trying, however.

Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (2015)
Wasp’s job as “Archivist” consists of trying to get information from “ghosts.” She traps the ghosts to find out who they were and what happened to the old world. She succeeds.

The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins (2015)
Carolyn, a librarian, wakes up from the dead and we find out that she has been reading “outside her catalog,” which is forbidden by her Father. Eventually Carolyn takes over the library and brings Father back from the dead; they are both revealed to be immortals.

The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater (2016)
A main character comes back from the dead in a patched-together body. He is changed, but he is still essentially himself. His death is a sacrifice so with Gansey’s resurrection comes a new balance of nature and magic.

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee (2016)
In order to keep her position and win a battle, Kel Cheris, a military commander, is forced to download the consciousness of a never-defeated general into her own body. Cheris doesn’t know when to trust him or how to keep him from taking over and living again with her body.

The Possessions, Sara Flannery Murphy (2017)
The main character Edie and her fellow workers, known as ‘bodies,’ wear the discarded belongings of the dead and swallow pills called lotuses to summon their spirits.

Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free, Randy Henderson (2017)
In this sequel to Finn Fancy Necromancy, Finn is found innocent of “dark” necromancy and starts a dating service for supernaturally-endowed people.

The Prey of Gods, Nicky Drayden (2017)
When two characters are resurrected that turns out to be only a minor part of everything that’s going on.

Do you know of a book or story (written or translated into English) that features necromancy but isn’t included on these lists? Please comment with the title and I will read and include it!

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