Juicy and Interestingly Complex: Amanda Downum’s Necromancer Chronicles

Amanda Downum’s first three novels, The Drowning City, The Bone Palace, and The Kingdom of Dust, came out between 2009 and 2012. (Her next novel, the Lovecraftian Dreams of Shreds and Tatters, comes out next June from Solaris Books.) I really love these books. And I’m not the only one to admire them: in 2010, The Bone Palace made the James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List for that year.

Entirely deservedly.

And I get to talk about them right here and now.

The series—The Necromancer Chronicles—centres around the character of Isyllt Iskaldur. Isyllt’s a necromancer. She’s also a spy from the nation of Selafai, and over the course of these three books her travels take her to a wide variety of different places, through any number of intrigues, and an unexpected amount of betrayals and reverses—even for someone whose job revolves around that kind of thing.

I don’t want to spoil any of the plots, for those of you who haven’t yet read these novels. (And damn, people, if you haven’t yet, what the hell are you waiting for? They’re really good!) Instead, let me mention a few of the things I deeply enjoy about them.

Worldbuilding, background detail, and sense of place. Downum has a really rich world here, and over the course of the novels we encounter many different locations and cultures and a diverse array of characters. None of these feel flat or two-dimensional or simplistic: there’s no Kingdom of Hats here. Politics, both of the international and local kind, are juicy and interestingly complex and affect our characters in ways both obvious and subtle. Throwaway lines and pieces of description imply layers of history. And from the city of canal-filled Symir at the edge of a tropical jungle to the ghost-ridden centre of Erisín and the deserts of Assar, Downum has a palpable gift for evoking a sense of place.

Characterisation. I don’t always like Downum’s characters, but there’s never been any question that I believe in them as people. Real, complicated, sometimes seriously screwed-up people—okay, more often than not seriously screwed-up people—but people whose actions and motivations are understandable in context. I like Isyllt and Savedra best* of all the viewpoint characters. Isyllt, because honestly who doesn’t like a prickly spy with a sense of humour and really bad luck (and/or judgment) with relationships? And Savedra because she’s just an amazing character, caught in a really tricky situation both romantically and politically—and she’s still kicking ass and taking names while wearing really amazing clothes.

*I think most people like Savedra a whole lot, for all that she only stars in The Bone Palace.

(Brit Mandelo discussed Savedra and how The Bone Palace deals with portraying her as a transgender person back when it first came out.)

All three books deliver satisfying stories with peril and tension and explosions and BOOM. They hit so very many of my narrative kinks. I keep wanting to know more about these people and their world and I’m still waiting impatiently for Downum to write more books in this vein.

I recommend them all to you very highly. (Especially The Bone Palace.) I need more company in my impatience. Give them a try.

The books of The Necromancer Chronicles are published by Orbit.

Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads books. Her blog. Her Twitter.


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