Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

I highly enjoyed Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride. It’s an urban fantasy with a lot of things going for it:

  • Humor! A lot of fantasy and science fiction takes itself far too seriously, so it’s always nice to find a book that has characters who are funny and try to enjoy life, despite their sometimes dire circumstances.
  • Set in Seattle! What can I say, Seattle is great.
  • Excellent YA-friendly sex! I normally hate sex in books, not because I dislike sex but because it’s often gratuitous, exaggerated, and its import blown way out of proportion. As a teen, I would have benefitted a lot from more books like Hold Me Closer, because in it sex isn’t some weird thing to be feared/worshipped; it’s just part of life, albeit not a part to take lightly, and the privacy of the main character is preserved since the actual act takes place during one of the breaks in the book. Also it only happens once; I realize by writing this much about it, I’m the one who has gone and blown it all out of proportion. Whoops. Let’s try again: the sex is tasteful, and there isn’t very much of it. There, much better.
  • More varied fantasy cast than normal! Urban fantasy these days often focuses on a small subset of fantastic creatures (vampires, werewolves, and the fey being the most common as best I can tell). Hold Me Closer certainly has all three of those, but it does a nice job of giving its world a bit of diversity with the inclusion of some decidedly non-standard fantastic folk like bigfoot and satyrs. I was a little dubious when I read the dust jacket description and it included werewolves, because I’m sick to death of werewolves and vampires (and the ones in this book are indeed pretty vanilla, for the most part), but was pleasantly surprised.
  • A male main character!

I need to qualify that last one a bit. I have nothing against female main characters; in fact, the majority of the books I have been reading in the recent past feature women. However, I am growing very jaded when it comes to urban fantasy. It was very refreshing to have a main character who wasn’t a plucky female private eye just coming into strange and frightening powers. For whatever reason, recent urban fantasy is littered with female characters who are quite able and willing to deal out a lot of violence and pain, but who then revert into gibbering piles of useless mush as soon as Mr. Werewolf Right comes onto the scene.

Frankly, I’m not a big fan of violence, and it is one of the least useful forms of traditionally male privilege/power for women to lay claim to. So many of these urban fantasy female leads read to me like they were intended to be edgy feminist characters, but are in fact simply re-iterating male values with a title nine twist. “Okay, you can engage in soul-destroying personal violence all you want, but you definitely need a hunky man in your life.” Really? No thanks. I value that these characters are (mostly) autonomous individuals and willing to take what they need from life, but there’s just something slightly off about the overall message, particularly once I started consuming urban fantasy in bulk.

Sam LaCroix in Hold Me Closer, Necromancer was thus a breath of fresh air. He’s male, he’s not a private eye/detective/hardbitten type (in fact, he’s a fairly aimless college dropout and fry cook at a fast food restaurant), and he’s virtually a pacifist despite discovering his source of power stems from blood and death.

So go give Hold Me Closer, Necromancer a try. It’s a lot of fun, is very much a coming-of-age story despite the fact that the main character is pushing the upper limits of young adulthood (although it seems like those limits are climbing upward recently, anyway), and despite having a pretty standard urban fantasy setup in many ways (werewolves plus fey plus undead) still manages to excite and surprise in others.

Plot summary

The plot summary contains spoilers! Show it anyway.

Samhain Corvus LaCroix (now isn’t that a mouthful) is a fast food fry cook with his friends Ramon, Brooke, and Frank. Until, that is, local necromancer and head of the local supernatural Council Douglas Montgomery discovers that Sam is a necromancer, too, and in an effort to cow Sam into submission (not realizing Sam has no idea that the supernatural even exists) sends him his friend Brooke’s reanimated head.

Based on a note sent with Brooke’s head, Sam meets Douglas at the local zoo, where he is told that he has a week to choose between being Douglas’ apprentice or being killed. He also is shown Ling Tzu, a sad zombie panda who Douglas resurrected to help the zoo avoid an international incident with China (no altruism here; Douglas was well paid).

On a desperate search for answers, Sam discovers that his mother is an earth witch who with the help of his uncle (also a necromancer) bound his powers at birth for fear of Douglas discovering him, then further hid them with a charmed medicine pouch that Sam has worn all this life. He is not happy about this, particularly because it makes him a lamb to the slaughter with no access to his birthright of necromantic power and no skill or knowledge even if he did have access.

His friends Ramon and Frank try to help him find answers, and are successful in getting a meeting with a local seer and her daughter Dessa. The seer in turn gives Sam the number for her sister June, who is a necromancer working out of Louisiana. Sam calls June, but she is unable to help him right away.

Confused and unsure about what to do, Sam takes his skateboard out for a bit of alone time, and is kidnapped by Douglas’ henchman (and rogue werewolf) Michael. He is imprisoned in Douglas’ basement in a cage with Brid, who is the heir to the alpha position of the local werewolf pack and who was kidnapped by Douglas for some sort of nefarious experimentation.

Under the guise of teaching, Douglas tortures Sam a bit. Sam and Brid grow closer during their cage time. Finally, Ashley, a Harbinger (think ghostly grim reaper a la Dead Like Me) shows up having been sent to teach Sam by June. Although she can’t help him out of their cage (since it’s constructed by Douglas’ necromantic powers) she is able to get a message out to the outside world for the price of regular home-cooked waffles. Clearly, Ashley has her priorities straight.

When Sam’s mother hears about the trouble that he is in, she removes her part of the binding on his powers from afar. Unfortunately, this happens right as he is trying (and failing) to summon a ghost under Douglas’ tender tutelage, and he ends up summoning Ashley and another Harbinger who should be far out of his necromantic pay grade. This frightens Douglas, who starts seeing Sam as a threat and decides to steal his powers instead of teaching him (a process which involves killing Sam).

Sam wakes up strapped down to a table in the basement, and although he is able to get one arm free and free Brid via his newly awoken powers, he is interrupted by Douglas who comes down and starts the ritual.

Ramon and Brid’s pack come to rescue them and have an epic battle with Douglas’ lawn ornamentation and his dragon/cat shapechanging butler James. They make it down to the basement, but Sam’s blood has dripped onto the earth, allowing him to summon up a bunch of zombies that he tries to order to attack Douglas. Unfortunately thanks to his poor control, the zombies end up attacking just about everyone, so Brid is occupied by Michael, her packmates and Ramon are occupied by the zombies, and Sam is still mostly tied to a table. Fortunately for Sam, he is able to grab Douglas’ knife at an opportune moment and stick it through his neck. He gets a rush of additional power as Douglas’ ritual backfires, and is freed. It turns out that Brid has killed Michael, Ramon has cut himself and been infected by were-bear blood, and Sam is a physical mess.

In the aftermath, he learns that he has inherited all of Douglas’ estate due to some “challenger takes all” style combat rules, along with Douglas’ seat on the Council. The only bad thing is that Douglas’ body has disappeared, although everyone figures that it’s because James, the magical butler guy, has sequestered it somewhere on previous orders from Douglas.