The Last Necromancer

The Last Necromancer

The Last Necromancer was first published in 2015 and was written by popular indie author, C.J. Arthur. It is a historical horror story with elements of romance that focuses on a young necromancer struggling to survive on the streets of Victorian London. The book is the first part of The Ministry of Curiosities series and its sequel – Her Majesty’s Necromancer – is due for release later this year.

Thirteen year old Charlie has spent most of his life as a street urchin, moving between bands of boys and stealing to survive. His luck runs out when he is caught and thrown in gaol with a group of adults who desire nothing more than to use him as a plaything. In order to escape them, Charlie does the one thing that comes naturally to him. He raises the body of a dead inmate and commands it to protect him.

Charlie has only used his powers once before (an act which caused his father to disown him) but this time it draws the attention of a secret band of people. The Ministry of Curiosities have been looking for a young woman named Charlotte – a woman they previously believed to be the last necromancer. Now they have found Charlie they hope that he can help them to locate her. What they don’t realise is that Charlie is not what he seems. He is not a thirteen year old boy at all but the eighteen year old Charlotte in disguise.

The Ministry of Curiosities are hoping to find Charlotte before she can fall into the hands of a maniac. If their enemy finds her first, he intends to use to raise an undead army in order to murder the queen. Held prisoner by the Ministry’s leader, a strict man by the name of Lincoln Fitzroy, she is given no choice but to assist them. But how can she trust that these men are any better than the one that seeks to use her?

Oh, how I wanted to like this book. I mean, just look at its cover – it’s a thing of beauty! I’ve always been a big fan of things set in the Victorian period and the blurb of this story really reeled me in. The novel is very well written and paints a pretty grim picture of Victorian London. Most of the novel is set in particularly impoverished areas. Charlie’s world is one where boys either steal or starve and girls are captured and sold to the highest bidder. The setting helps add to the tension of the story as the reader is never sure what lurks behind any corner (although they know that, chances are, it won’t be something good).

Yet the story never feels as oppressively grim as some that I have reviewed. While life has certainly handed Charlie lemons, she still remains surprisingly upbeat and witty. There is a lot of entertaining dialogue in the novel and the characters play very well off each other. The plot is also structured in such a way that it keeps you guessing. The reader is always in the same position as Charlie, discovering about the Ministry of Curiosities for the first time. As their secrets are slowly revealed to her as the story progressed, the story did hold my interest well as I wanted know exactly what was going on.

From this, you may be wondering why I wasn’t overly fond of the story. Well, beyond the smooth writing and decent setting were a lot of problems. First and foremost was that the plot points didn’t snap neatly together. There were a lot of holes within the story, often glossed over by flimsy explanations. How did the doctor know that the Last Necromancer was in London? Well, he was in contact with a maid who happened to work in Charlie’s household. That’s great but how did he get in contact with that maid? She couldn’t have known to seek him out (the entirety of London couldn’t have been aware about a doctor who wanted to raise the dead) and he couldn’t have just contacted every household in London in the hope that one of them was correct.

Additionally, the doctors plan to kill the Queen – just why? I though this seemed a little weak from the word go. Although the doctor claims that this was never really his plan (it was just a lie told to Charlie) we never find out whether or not this is the truth either. He wants to raise the dead because of science? Fine (I guess). Why does he need to raise five of the creatures then? Surely a single one would be enough to prove whatever it is he wants to prove.

The novel also never felt as though it sat well on its own. While it was a complete story in its own right, it also left a hell of lot unexplained. Other than Charlie, only Seth is given a backstory. We never even really find out anything about Fitzroy, even though he (almost) fulfils the role of the love interest. Little things are hinted here and there but Arthur seems to be saving anything concrete about him for a sequel. I wasn’t even really sure if he had any supernatural abilities or not as some of the things that he did within the story could not really be explained any other way.

Yet my biggest problem with the story was Charlie herself. On a whole, the cast was very likable. I really fell in love with Gus and Seth – I wish I had big brothers like them – and while Fitzroy was often detestable, he was at least interesting to go with it. Charlie started off as a curious character. I really liked the early reveal that she was a girl and enjoyed her early attempts to keep her gender hidden (while at the same time seriously crushing on Fitzroy). It was impressive that she managed to keep up her act for five whole years and her desire to remain an independent woman was pretty admirable for the time period. Unfortunately, it did not last.

Charlie is a frustratingly weak female lead. Throughout the novel, she is captured and assaulted again and again. Despite the fact that she has spent years living on the streets, she loses all of her savvy as soon as she meets Fitzroy. She is nearly raped twice in the novel but only once proves that she can save herself. She is attacked a few more times in addition to this and every time needs saving by Fitzroy or guards. Even when she briefly returns to the streets, she shows no survival instincts. She knows that women are targeted in Whitechapel and yet makes no effort to immediately disguise herself and instead wanders around at night in expensive clothes. In one late scene, she even proves that she is unable to overpower an aging priest. Charlie has an awesomely destructive power and yet always seems reluctant to use it, even when she has a ready supply of cadavers on hand. Instead, she seems to prefer to wait to be rescued by someone else at all times.

My final gripe is a personal one and also constitutes a massive SPOILER so you may want to stop reading now if you’re still interested in reading this book.

My issue is the misuse of Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein is probably my favourite novel of all time, which is why I think that this bothers me more than it would some people. While I understand that authors like reinventing classic characters, Frankenstein had no place in this story. The character was so unlike him that it was unfunny. Frankenstein suffers from an almost pathological fear of women in Shelley’s original novel, leading to his unnatural creation of life. Why would he need to create life himself if he has a daughter, as Archer writes? He is also portrayed as being completely without ethics. Frankenstein immediately regretted raising one Creature. He wouldn’t then go on to create another four, even going as far to murder powerful people to get the most perfect of parts. Archer could have created her own mad scientist, the use of Frankenstein was quite baffling (especially as he is the only non-original character to appear in this otherwise historical novel).

Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble so I’ll wrap up. The Last Necromancer showed some promise at first and did suck me in. However, I found myself disappointed on the whole. The story is pretty flimsy and Charlie’s repeated need to be rescued by men grew old very fast. I’m curious to see what will happen next but only if Fitzroy keeps his promise to teach Charlie how to defend herself.

The Last Necromancer can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Fading Dusk | Arkham Reviews

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