Monday, April 8, 2013

Phil Emery's Necromantra - Book Review by S.E.

NecromantraNecromantra by Philip Emery
S.E. Lindberg rating: 4 of 5 stars

Steampunk Necromancy With Noir Milieu, Necromantra is weird fiction for the literary horror reader.
“There is a story here...That every sound we ever make in the world is part of a pattern, part of an immense mantra begun at the beginning of time. That when the pattern is complete, all the dead will rise.”

Summary - From Smashwords: In the Hundred, the working folk are kept in order by the masters who administrate the various mills, pits and manufactories. Strict records are kept in town halls, every death certified despite a crushing mortality. However, the old grim certainties face a new threat with the arrival of the necromancers - dark-skinned pilgrims who, by the chant of a strange mantra, are able to raise the recently dead, thus throwing the immaculate records of the town halls into chaos. In retaliation, the masters appoint a number of rectifiers to each town. Reviled and feared by most of the Hundred, their job is to 're-decease' the 'discrepancies', as the risen are labelled.

Ambience and Style: Phil Emery’s Necromantra is reminiscent of Brian McNaughton’s infamous book The Throne of Bones (just replace McNaughton’s focus on “ghoul erotica” with “thaumaturgic conjuring”). Mature content. Ghosts and animated corpses aplenty. Poetic, literary style. The economy of chapters can be disruptive yet compelling: many mysterious gaps in time/scenery between them propel the story at a brisk pace, engaging serious readers while alienating those looking for a light-read. The Hundred Towns, if you dare adventure there, is knee deep in smog, dissection theaters, industrial steam-driven foundries, and haunted mine shafts. The conflict is intimately linked to this dreary cityscape:

Conflict: This is no simple adventure ( i.e. in which the conflict is "hero vs. bad guy"). There is a distant war fought between the Hundred Towns and some exterior force which is not the real focus. The real battle is within the Hundred Towns, and the control over the mysterious (mineable) Powers. These Powers are intimately connected with communication (song, speech, ink, newspapers, storytelling, words); there is a pervasive, turbulent undercurrent in every scene as these Powers struggle to reveal themselves, or be controlled:
“Every resurrection makes an entry in one of these [ledgers] a lie that can be seen by the citizens of the Hundred. And every time it happens it drags these records into doubt. And when folk start doubting these, what’s next?”

Where to buy?: Paperbacks are out-of-print treasures (expensive, scarce) but electronic versions are available via for just 6USD (as of 2013).

P. Emery’s Sword & Sorcery short stories: Reading Sword & Sorcery anthologies led me to track down Necromantra. I first learned of his work via the Demons: A Clash of Steel Anthology, in which his "Fifteen Breaths" appealed to me; it had a poetic, dreamy-weird style to it. Crossed his work again in Return of the Sword and was completely taken with his "The Last Scream of Carnage" (notably the editor's pick). It was again poetic, and pushed the bounds of the genre.

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