Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Enterprise of Death, by Jesse Bullington. Orbit Books, 2011

This is historical fantasy like I’ve never read before. When a ship wreck leaves teenagers Awa, a Moorish slave, Omorose, her harem girl master, and Halim, a eunuch, stranded on what is probably the Rock of Gibralter, they are found, imprisoned, and trained by a necromancer. His attendants- including his mistress- are animated corpses ranging from the recently dead to skeletons and they prevent any escape. In the end, only Awa is left alive as the necromancer’s protégé. He leaves her for ten years to await a horrible fate, which she hopes to avert by finding the necromancer’s book- which could be anywhere.

Set around 1500, Awa has three strikes against her as she searches Europe for the book: she’s Moorish, she’s a lesbian, and she’s a necromancer. The Spanish Inquisitors don’t like any of those things, and neither does the general population of the time.  But thankfully not everyone has these prejudices, and she finds a few friends who help her along the way as she searches graveyards, fights a demon, is hunted by Omorose and an Inquisitor, and gets caught up in battles.

I really enjoyed the story, but I suspect not all will. There is lots of vividly described gore, lots of sex (including with the dead), and most of the characters can’t utter a sentence without swear words in it, most often the F bomb and frequently the verboten C bomb. But watching the characters grow- especially Awa- through the story is engaging and it’s a fine comrades-in-arms chanson de geste. A few of the characters are plucked from history, such as Paracelsus, and Awa’s friend the artist and mercenary Niklaus Manuel Deutsch, and that, along with reference to the rulers and battles of the time, allow the reader to have a sense of the time and place. I stayed up late reading this one. 


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