McBride, Lish, 2010, Hold me Closer, Necromancer, Henry Holt, 343 pages, hardback, "young adult," ISBN 978-0-8050-9098-7.
This is Lish McBride's first published novel, and I don't think she quite has the young-adult thing down. No matter how much two characters are attracted to each other, in a young-adult novel they don't have sex on screen and outside of marriage.At least, not in the United States. That said, I would unhesitatingly give this book to any young adult I know who likes fantasy fiction.
The title is definitely odd. It's one of those titles about which, when you get to the relevant part of the story, you say to yourself something like "okay, I can see that, but it's still an offputting title." Other adjectives might include misleading, suicidal (as in the book might commit commercial suicide because of the title), and other such derogatory terms.
The cover, apparently by Rich Deas (I say "apparently" because he is listed as the jacket designer), is pretty nice. And I find the whole idea of the book enchanting. Powerful evil person trying to kill innocent young and ineffectual protagonist. This is a standard plot situation for a young-adult story. Except the protagonist is a necromancer. And he doesn't know it. It adds a whole new level to the requirement typical of such books that he find himself. Sam is a likable fellow, and so are his friends. As the book goes on the reader discovers that there is a lot going on beneath the still waters of Sam's surface personality. Yet I never felt cheated. I never felt that the author had concealed something important that I really should have known. ("You didn't think I would notice that he had two heads?")
McBride explains how necromancy works (it's not what you think), how werewolves work, how ghosts work, but not everything in this story is explained. Spirit animals, for instance. Why do people have them? What do they do? Are they real animals or something more? I assume that some of this will be revealed in a sequel. And there is going to be a sequel, out about a year after this one.
Dare I mention Patricia Briggs? I dare, I dare. The magical systems are not the same, but something about McBride's world is reminiscent of Briggs' werewolf and fae universe. The book reminds me also of some of Tim Powers' novels. The protagonists have similar personalities. There's no excessive drinking or excruciating and prolonged pain, as is inevitable in a Powers book. But Sam would have felt natural in "Declare." He's better off in McBride's hands.
Not that there isn't dramatic tension in "Hold me closer, necromancer," and the kind of violence that is inevitable when powerful magic users think only of themselves. But I think the level of violence is appropriate for a horror-fantasy novel for young adults.Better keep a couple of cartoon books on hand just in case the person you give the book to doesn't finish it in the first session and has trouble going to sleep.
It's not easy to believe that this is Lish McBride's first published novel. I have read a lot of first novels. This one is suave and debonair by comparison. Assuming that McBride will improve her craft, as most writers do after the first book, I am really looking forward to the next one.
David C. Kopaska-Merkel
1300 Kicker Rd
Tuscaloosa, AL 35404