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List of books in which necromancy doesn’t pay

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 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) Dr. Frankenstein experiments with the reanimation of dead tissue and creates a creature whose actions he cannot control.

She: A History of Adventure, H. Rider Haggard (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 can be foiled by Christian symbols.

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 Case of Charles Dexter Ward, H.P Lovecraft (written 1927, published 1941) Necromancer Joseph Curwen leaves a letter with advice to future practitioners of the art: ““doe not call up Any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use.” But Charles Dexter Ward does not heed his advice.

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, the evil force in Mirkwood is called the Necromancer.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien (1954) The being formerly known as the Necromancer has now been revealed as Sauron, who tampers with the dead in several ways.

The Black Cauldron, Lloyd Alexander (1965) The Death-Lord Arawn raises dead warriors using a magical black cauldron so they can fight for him.

A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. LeGuin (1968) When Ged was a young wizard in training, 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 magically, which is sucking all the life out of the world. Ged finally manages to defeat Cob, sacrificing his own magic powers to help Cob realize that he is dead.

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, reanimates the dead.

Pet Sematary, Stephen King (1983) A man’s cat, 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 magical reanimation of Voldemort with Wormtail’s help, 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 to either bind or raise the dead, but there are unintended consequences if the user is improperly trained.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke (2004)  As part of an attempt to legitimize English magic, Mr Norrell summons a fairy to bring an important gentleman’s wife back from the grave; the catch is that half of her new life will be spent with the fairy, and she has no choice in the matter.

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 Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss (2007) Lyra performs necromancy on her husband Lanre, which has terrible results for him; he becomes a powerful and mysterious villain in the world of Kvothe, the main character of the central narrative. Lanre becomes Haliax, one of the terrible Chandrian who kill anyone who mentions their names or tells any part of their story.

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, is raised from the dead to resume his rule.

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 by bringing the dead back to life with his acute sense of morality and the ridiculousness of the situations he finds himself in that produces tension in this novel.

A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness (2011) Diana doesn’t know any better than to perform necromancy when her vampire husband is dying. She calls on a goddess rather than a demon (good) but she doesn’t ask what the price will be (bad).

The Mondragoran Chronicles, Barry James (2012) Undead hero Jordan Hanson is out for revenge against those who brought him back: “they reached out from darkness to hurt and main the innocent….But now he also existed in the darkness, and he would teach them to fear the very shadows where they once felt secure.”

The Elementals, Francisca Lia Block (2012) Ariel is flattered to be asked to join with her peers in a necromancy scheme, but 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 people to dream about their dead loved ones as if they were still alive. When the main character ends up with a murdered 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 Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black (2013) Tana lives in a world where people go “cold” between the time they are bitten by a vampire and the first time they drink blood. Although other teens want to be bitten and become vampires, Tana decides to stay human.

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.

Frankenstein in Baghdad, Ahmed Saadawi (2013) A junk peddler in Baghdad brings home body parts that he finds in the street after each day’s explosions and stitches them together until one day, when a bomber blows up a hotel security guard, the guard’s soul takes up residence in the pieced-together corpse and it becomes a creature everyone calls the Whatsitsname. This creature sets out to avenge the guard and then decides to avenge everyone whose body parts were used to make him. He begins by killing bomb makers and manufacturers, but when his parts start to wear out he begins to murder random people and is no different from any other terrorist by the time he vows that “With the help of God and of heaven. . . I will take revenge on all the criminals. I will finally bring about justice on earth.”

Ruin and Rising, Leigh Bardugo (2014) Special gifted humans with powers, called the “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; the sight pushes Jamie 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.

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (2014) The Horologists fight the Anchorites, who keep themselves immortal by draining the souls of others. Marinus says these “carnivores are addicts and their drug is artificial longevity.”

Slade House, David Mitchell (2015) Twins Norah and Jonah Grayer wander the earth forcibly possessing other peoples’ bodies until they meet Marinus, who makes sure they will no longer “use human beings like disposable gloves.”

The Last Necromancer, C.J. Archer (2015) Necromancy doesn’t pay for Charlotte, who gets kicked out of her adoptive father’s house for it. It doesn’t pay for any of the dead she raises or for the man who claims to be her biological father, Victor Frankenstein.

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.

Gnomon, Nick Harkaway (2017) The traditional viewpoint on the yearning for resurrection of a person’s loved one is not the last word on the subject in this novel, in which readers are repeatedly told—and shown—how the process of re-creating a person could work. There is a temptation scene of a mother with her dead son and because her temptation is so powerful, it’s especially brave and wonderful how the novel ends, with a few people managing to resist their yearning for what is already dead.

The Barrow Will Send What it May, Margaret Killjoy (2018) When a group of demon-hunters get a lift from a woman who tells them she died of cancer six months before, they realize there’s a necromancy problem in town. Although they debate about it (“are we supposed to bring back the dead? I don’t know, but EMTs do it all the time”) they eventually see (and say) that necromancy is dangerous (“real, real dangerous”).

Give the Dark My Love, Beth Revis (2018) A teenaged necromancer, although originally motivated by love, creates a revenant army and is unable to give up her power to command the dead.

The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi (2018) Laila has the ability to sense things about objects she touches, and when she finally ends up in the middle of a necromancy scheme taking place in the famous catacombs beneath Paris, she gets a very definite feeling that necromancy does not pay.

Ninth House, Leigh Bardugo (2019) The mission of the Ninth House is to monitor the magical activities of the other eight secret societies at Yale. Its secondary mission, though, is to “unravel the mysteries of what lay beyond the Veil.” As the characters find out, this is exceedingly dangerous, if not absolutely suicidal.

The Companions, Katie M. Flynn (2020) In a world of the near-future, wealthy people can upload their brains at the moment of death into robot bodies. Many of them do this hoping to cheat death, but what they find on waking as cyborgs is that they now belong to a corporation and have no legal rights. In the course of the novel, they lose their memories, their free will, and finally their right to any kind of life at all.

Piranesi, Susanna Clarke (2020) This novel’s villain is revealed at the very beginning, when Piranesi tells readers that “the Other” is interested in “vanquishing Death and becoming immortal,” the typical path to necromancy. The cruelty of the novel is a result of necromantic temptation, the quest for magic at any price, no matter what it costs someone else.

Magic Dark and Strange, Kelly Powell (2020) If a person who enjoys the steampunk aesthetic and an idea of necromancy without any of the usual drawbacks wrote a short novel in which very little actually happens, this would be the result.

Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2021) is all gothic atmosphere and fairly predictable, with the human longing for immortality twisted into evil and the would-be necromancer meeting his inevitable death before the end.

Nona the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (2022) John, the Creator, says that “when he was a kid he hated change, any change at all.” Certainly this is an impetus for necromancy, which is an attempt to arrest an inevitable change. Like all necromancers, John is unsatisfied with his results, saying “I couldn’t bring anyone back once they’d gone, just stop them from going if they were close. I could fix all the damage and even get the heart beating again and fix the brain. But there was nothing going on inside…they never talked, they never responded.”

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.

Guilty Pleasures and the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, Laurell K. Hamilton (1993) Anita literally takes money for performing necromancy. The first customer that we hear about is “probably already at the cemetery. She would be standing there with her little black purse and her grown sons, waiting for me to raise her husband from the dead.”

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.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone series, Laini Taylor (2011) Human in her present form, Karou is of the chimaera and Akiva of the seraph people in a war-torn parallel world called Eretz. What the seraphs don’t know is that the chimaera have a resurrectionist, who puts the souls of dead soldiers into new bodies so they can go soldiering on. As Karou and Akiva manage to bring an end to the war between chimaera and seraph, the resurrectionist learns that “tithing” pain to bring the souls of the dead back into bodies is no longer necessary; she can draw on big magic as long as she learns to use it responsibly, and she can eventually repopulate Eretz.

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 young magician called a “Craftswoman.” She works as a first-year associate in a magical law firm, starting her first adventure by literally digging up a grave and reanimating the bodies inside it. She is then called to a city called Alt Coulumb to investigate the death of the god. After bringing the god back to life, Tara takes a leave of absence from her 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 is a demon hunter who has resurrected the spirit of her first husband Eric. He turns out to be infected with a demon in his borrowed body. How can she explain the necessity of killing him to her daughter without giving away her secret demon-fighting identity?

The Girl with all the Gifts, M.R. Carey (2014) Readers learn along with Melanie herself why she is imprisoned and what kind of being she is (the undead kind). What she has been taught while in prison is the key to the survival of a new kind of life (a zombie-brain-fungus kind) on earth.

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.

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.

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, and it changes everyone’s understanding of their customs from the past and hopes for the future.

The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater (2016) Gansey comes back from the dead in a patched-together body. He is changed, but he is still essentially himself. His death was 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.

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) Two characters are resurrected by gods, but it’s not a big deal in the larger scope of their machinizations.

Reign of the Fallen, Sarah Glenn Marsh (2018) Odessa and her partner Evander are necromancers who work for the King of Karthia, a king who has been ruling while dead for many years now in a perfect and unchanging kingdom. When Evander is killed by a “Shade,” one of the dead whose skin has been exposed, Odessa and her new partner, Evander’s sister Meredy, must find out who is behind the political plot to make the dead appear fearsome so the live Karthian people will rise up against necromancy.

The Winter of the Witch, Katherine Arden (2018) Morozko and Medved manage to put away their animosity and work together to bring a beloved character back from the dead. It’s a lovely moment, free from any forebodings of the usual penalties for necromancy because when they work together, with Vasya’s help, a balance is restored to their world.

For a Muse of Fire, Heidi Heilig (2018) The story of how Jetta grows up to become a strong and principled wielder of power is undercut by the fact that her power is necromancy and she gives in to the most stereotypical temptation of all, the urge to bring a loved one back to life.

FrankKissStein, Jeanette Winterson (2019) This novel begins with Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley during that summer in 1816 and takes the question of what it means to try to restore a human life up to the present with the actions of transgender Ry Shelley and the man they love, Victor Stein. The novel lives on, but this novel asks how a human brain can live on.

Come Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire (2019) Jack is apprenticed to a mad scientist in the world of The Moors, where resurrection is routine, sometimes used to make a cart horse and sometimes to bring a loved one back. There are a few drawbacks to a second resurrection but nothing that lightning can’t cure.

Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (2019) Nine necromancers and their cavaliers explore a centuries-old laboratory complex full of dangers and directions for learning what an old culture knew about necromancy. The pleasure of reading this novel is not because of the plot, the characters, or the world-building; the pleasure is mostly in the dialogue.

Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (2020) Harrow alone learns that necromancy alone does not confer eternal life and that thought can shape the universe. Also we learn that a person who makes love to a corpse is “committing the love that cannot speak its name.”

The Witness for the Dead, Katherine Addison (2021) The main character, Thara Celehar, makes a living by speaking to the dead so necromancy pays, literally, but the price it exacts is high; Celehar says that most witnesses for the dead burn out after 5 or 6 years on the job.

The Library of the Dead, T.L. Huchu (2021) Young Ropa is already proficient at being a “ghost-talker” but is still growing into her full magical powers, so it’s not clear what price her ghost-talking may exact, although it is clear that the magician she catches draining an immortality elixir from children will meet a well-deserved end.

The Change, Kirsten Miller (2022) Nessa’s power is necromancy; as her grandmother explains it, “the dead call to us….In our family there’s always been a woman in every generation who can hear them. I heard my first haint when I was your age.” The three main characters decide that Nessa will find the bodies of local girls who have been killed while the other two will protect them and punish whoever is responsible for the killing. This works for them.

The Necromancer’s Daughter, D. Wallace Peach (2022) Aster was born dead and necromanced back to life by her father Barus, who teaches her that necromancy is an extension of healing and can be performed within the first three days after death. She feels such responsibility, in her role as a healer, that she regards each lost opportunity for necromancy as “sinful.” This novel provides quite a twist on the usual moralistic attitude towards bringing back the dead.

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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