The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Death Cab For Sam (Review: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer; Lish McBride)

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
Lish McBride
Henry Holt 2010

I have been wanting to read this book since I first set eyes on the title. For a while I didn't actually know anything about Hold Me Closer, Necromancer but I didn't care because it had the best title I'd ever heard. Later I learnt a bit about the plot and became even more curious and when the artwork came out I just about wet myself. It's true. Then there was the trailer. That guy, that voice... I was hooked. I've actually had my copy for a while but had dutifully consigned it to the bottom of my teetering TBR pile but eventually it's siren song became too strong and I sneaked it to the top. With these towering expectations I, by all rights, should have been at least a little disappointed with this book but I wasn't. You may now expect less of a review and more of a love song as this book is 100% my new book crush.

The plot is fairly straight forward. College drop out Sam is whiling his life away flipping burgers at the hilariously named Plumpy's. It's not ideal but he has good friends and a place of his own that he can nearly afford. Then along comes uber-sinister Douglas who resentfully (and not a bit terrifyingly) informs Sam that he, like Douglas, is a necromancer. Sam has issues taking this seriously. Eventually, due to a parade of weird, scary and gruesome events, Sam begins to see some truth in Douglas's statement – although he thinks that he might prefer the term “Death-Wrangler” (less Dungeons and Dragons). From this point on, Sam finds himself pitted against Douglas in a battle he doesn't want to be a part of and one that might cost him his family, his friends and perhaps his very soul.

Sam is a great protagonist. His voice is clear, confident and believable. While living a somewhat slacker lifestyle, he's clearly pretty smart but carries the tangible air of the outsider – he just doesn't know where he belongs. Probably because raising the dead is not a career choice that exactly rolls of the tongue. As well as smart he's also very funny with a dead-pan humour that really appeals. Additionally, he's a really nice guy – he looks after his friends, loves his mum and is positively delightful to his little old lady neighbour. I love Sam – he's one of my favourite protagonists this year, not least due to his ability to reference both Alice In Wonderland and Monty Python. Perfect.

The supporting cast are equally strong and while the story is generally told by Sam, several of them get their own moment to shine. Brid is particularly likable. She's a tough female character who can clearly look after herself, yet she also has a pleasing vulnerability and the ability to let this side of her show – it's a believable mix and I really enjoyed the sections of the book told from her perspective. These exerts could have seemed purely expositional (a lot of information is gleaned from Brid's story line) and it is credit to the author that she's created a character strong and interesting enough to make the break in Sam's narration just as enjoyable as the story he voices.

Other characters are also exceptionally well draw - from Sam's new age-y mother to Brid's protective older brothers there is nary a superfluous character. Sam's best friend Ramon is another nice guy and I loved his matter of fact willingness to put his life on the line for Sam. He really doesn't give it a second thought and who wouldn't want a best friend like that? Other characters of note are admirable Brook, hilarious Ashley and finally the rather awesome Mrs. W. To say much more about any of them would be to deny you the pleasure of making their acquaintance on their own – they really are a joy to read. As a villain, Douglas ticks all the boxes. He really has no redeeming features – he's utterly Bad. To. The. Bone. And loving it.

Lish McBride's writing has a laid back, laconic style that belies the pacing and depth of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. While on one level this book is all coolness and fun, it's also filled with the blackest of black humour and contains some genuinely nasty and frightening scenes. There is a lot of blood, mostly Sam's, spilt on the road to a climax that sees him teetering on the brink of a frightening mental abyss - his terror and distress towards the end are both upsetting and frightening. However, McBride writes these scenes with great skill and still manages to pull the reader through to a last line that had me roaring with laughter. Something else that had me giggling with glee were the chapter headings. All song titles/lyrics (like the title itself), they could have been a rundown of my life's greatest hits – Birdhouse In My Soul! Back In Black! BALLROOM BLITZ! Incidentally, were I a TV exec. I would be queuing up for the rights to this book – it would make a fantastic series. At the very least it would have an awesome soundtrack.

There is no doubt that Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is well put together. It could have been a little too knowing in it's cool boy humour but underneath the deadpan delivery, snark, blood and gore is actually a touching story of the importance of being true to your friends, your family and yourself, whatever you may be – regardless of your ability to take it seriously. Fans of The Dresden Files might particularly enjoy this title, but so would fans of any good story. While there is a second book in the making, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer also stands beautifully on it's own, so pick it up and give it a go. In one fell swoop, Lish McBride has arrived near the top of my favourite authors and I find myself anticipating her next book just as much as I anticipated this one. Lovely stuff, indeed.


Manda said…
It's always dangerous for me to read your glowing reviews. I want it now.
Lauren said…
Book crushes are the *best*. The title of this one is definitely standout, and I'm loving the sound of Brid - my kind of character, I think. And any book that references Birdhouse In My Soul *has* to be worth a look. Fabulous review!
Oh, this one sounds really, really good. I don't know why, but I've ignored this one because for some or other reason, thought it wouldn't be good. You've just changed my mind.
PLUMPY'S!! I too LOVe the title. But it was your wonderful review that pushed me over the edge and made me add this to my wishlist :)
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