As the witch-pyres of the Spanish Inquisition blanket Renaissance Europe in a moral haze, a young African slave finds herself the unwilling apprentice of an ancient necromancer. Unfortunately, quitting his company proves even more hazardous than As the witch-pyres of the Spanish Inquisition blanket Renaissance Europe in a moral haze, a young African slave finds herself the unwilling apprentice of an ancient necromancer. Unfortunately, quitting his company proves even more hazardous than remaining his pupil when she is afflicted with a terrible curse.
Yet salvation may lie in a mysterious tome her tutor has hidden somewhere on the war-torn continent. She sets out on a seemingly impossible journey to find the book, never suspecting her fate is tied to three strangers: the artist Niklaus Manuel Deutsch, the alchemist Dr Paracelsus and a gun-slinging Dutch mercenary. As Manuel paints her macabre story on canvas, plank and church wall, the apprentice becomes increasingly aware of the great dangers that surround her. She realises she must revisit the fell necromancy of her childhood - or death will be the least of her concerns. ...Continua Nascondi
Jesse Bullington’s books are not for the faint of heart. His quirky imagination combined with a knack for the macabre can produce scenes and monsters that’ll stick with you – next time I visit a graveyard, I know I’ll be thinking of his TheJesse Bullington’s books are not for the faint of heart. His quirky imagination combined with a knack for the macabre can produce scenes and monsters that’ll stick with you – next time I visit a graveyard, I know I’ll be thinking of his The Enterprise of Death.
I approached this book based only on the recollection of my feelings towards his previous literary effort, The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart (pubblicato adesso in Italia, tra l’altro: La Banda del Cimitero, per Castelvecchi). I remember having mixed feelings about it but nonetheless Bullington’s imagination had me hooked. I am most decidedly not faint of heart, and quite enjoy my dark fantasy... well, dark. Not in the way many urban fantasy is today tagged as “dark” just because it features leather clad shadows of folkloric monsters, but rather a story whose author is genuinely trying to mix horror tropes with his fantasy milieu. Bullington is very, very good at this – he was able to unsettle me in more than one occasion, and just like in The Grossbart I loved the embodiment of the Plague, in this book there’s another monster that just captivated me.
If you are like me, because of this fact alone The Enterprise of Death is worth the time it takes to read, but there’s more.
Awa is a necromancer, albeit a press-ganged one. She’s an African slave who survives a shipwreck just to find herself prisoner of a hermit necromancer who instructs her in his arts, and her attempt to escape him and the horrors that stagger in his wake spans many years. In the process she befriends Niklaus Manuel of Bern, an historical character (like many in the book, but he’s the one who features more prominently) freely reinterpreted, Paracelsus (physician, alchemist, etc., you know him!) and a female, foul-mouthed mercenary named Monique.
The chemistry between the characters is good, very good when we’re talking about Awa and Manuel. Their first encounter, and their numerous conversations by the fire are lovely. The surprise and relief Awa feels in finding acceptance in another living human being was palpable, and you could not help smiling and pitying the girl.
All in all, I found all the characters easier to relate to than the Brothers Grossbart, who were (intentionally) utterly unlikable and hard to stay with for all those pages. Characterization, though, still feels a bit wooden in places, but I saw the improvements. Awa in particular is a well crafted if not wonderful protagonist.
The book can be roughly divided in three chunks – Awa on the mountain top with the necromancer, where her apprenticeship takes place; her time out in the world trying to live a “normal” life, and her confrontation with the necromancer. Of these three, I found the first and the last more enjoyable than the middle one. The beginning can be considered largely as a set up for the story to come. The book could have worked without large part of it, but I’m happy Bullington decided to include that part as well, because the scenes in the necromancer’s hut and on the mountaintop gave him the freedom to go crazy with the imagination. I loved it (yeah, there’s something wrong with me, I know). The downside of this, though, is that for a large part it was not clear who the protagonist was, and what relevance the many characters had to the story to come.
In the middle, Awa meets her friends and develops her relationship with them, and while I could see how this was vital to the character arc, in my opinion the rhythm and plot dragged a bit. It was nothing unbearable, but the action took four steps back in favour of introspection and dialogue, and had it taken two the balance would have been better.
The conclusion I rather liked, it features some coincidences but they are decently set and foreshadowed, so I’m not complaining (overmuch. Heh). I was uncertain of the outcome until the end, and I liked that.
I liked the depiction of the setting a lot, but then again you just need to glance at the four-page bibliography at the end of the book to know that Bullington is a connoisseur of Medieval Europe and that he did his homework. He certainly knows how to capture the gothic feel of it.
Another thing that peeved me is how he handles the shift between point of views – that is, how he does not. One paragraph you were in someone’s head, the next you found yourself in someone else’s without warning. Sometimes it was confusing, at others annoying. This, together with the non-linear narrative, made for a bit of a structural mess, in my opinion. It was not so bad that it spoiled the reading experience, but I did not see the need for random flashbacks in the middle of other scenes. The flashbacks per se were interesting, even necessary to an extent, but I think I would have been more interested in them had they appeared chronologically and not further on, interrupting the flow of the narrative.
Despite this, the book is fun and weird and macabre and entertaining. Not to everyone’s taste, but if you think you’d enjoy a vivid depiction of necromancy, human messed-upness (made that up), monsters, walking corpses and scary creatures mixed with one of the darkest times in European history sprinkled with the philosophical and religious issues of the time, this is a book that won’t disappoint you.
P.S. The blurb, while technically correct, really has nothing to do with the actual feel of the story. ...Continua Nascondi