Fans of the fantasy genre are no doubt familiar with the Harry Potter series, the worldwide sensational series that currently holds the benchmark for both young-adult literature and the Masquerade.
Stories like this can be tons of fun, because they allow an author to infer almost whatever they want about current culture and manipulate it to fit their story. For instance, sketchy alleys in Britain are only sketchy to conceal bustling wizard marketplaces. However, the farther the story is altered, the more explanation becomes necessary. This defines one of my major qualms with Harry Potter: every time some new contraption or concept is introduced, valuable space must be devoted to explaining it, so that the audience perceives the world as flawlessly as the author. Too much explanation can create lengthy breaks from relevant action, hurting the flow of the story. And if you’re like me, this can really bug you. (See what I did here?)
So, for your consideration, I suggest Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride as a worthy alternative.
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is — surprise, surprise — a masquerade-trope piece of fantasy, similar in style to Harry Potter. It follows the life of Samhain Corvus Lacroix, a college dropout living in Seattle, who quickly comes to discover that the existence of mythological creatures (werewolves, witches, vampire, sasquatches, etc.) is very much fact, and that he is a Necromancer by birth. The conflict of the story quickly skyrockets as Sam is thrown headfirst into the social and political conflicts of the Mythical community, thanks to the meddling of a prominent Necromancer by the name of Douglas Montgomery. As Sam struggles to come to terms with both his past and his present situations, Douglas is weaving his devious plots in an attempt to increase his influence and power. The entirety of the narrative is portrayed from the highly contemporary standpoint of Sam, with a few asides to give insights into the character of Douglas Montgomery, Ramon (Sam’s best friend) and Brid (a spunky teenage werewolf).
Now, while the style of this book may be similar to Harry Potter, it has a good number of differences that truly drew me in, one of which being the amount of description. Lish McBride spends very little time explaining the finer details of the magic in the story; but this is a good thing, because it allows for only the necessary details to exist. The first time a werewolf mentions Aconite, for example, we the audience get the sense that this is a drug because of the adverse, narcotic effects they experience. What we don’t get is an extra two paragraphs, clinically describing the effects and importance of Aconite, and the story is able to continue moving along at a good, immersive pace. This puts the knowledge of the audience at the same level as the main characters, reinforcing the feeling that Sam is getting way more than he bargained for, and making the reactions of characters that much more personal.
Another important difference — and indeed, something that every piece of fiction should take into account — is the scale and consequences of the fantasy. Like many large-scale pieces of fantasy, Harry Potter himself takes on the archetypal role of “The Chosen One”, being the only person who can truly defeat You-Know-Who (because apparently names are scary). And since the Death-Eaters threaten life on a global scale (aha, keywords!), that makes Harry the savior of the world. This isn’t a unique situation by any means, and wouldn’t be too bad, if not for the noncommittal, open-ended nature of magic in the Potterverse.
As an absolutely obsessive reader of fantasy, I spend a lot of time thinking about magic; how it works, its governance and flow, it’s possible boundaries and consequences. So when I see two people point wooden rods at one another and unleash seemingly endless streams of energy, I get a little annoyed. In Hold Me Closer, Necromancer magic is a consequential power that can really take a toll on the user. This is made especially evident for Sam as a necromancer, who can’t even use his own power without drawing blood. Compare this to the Potterverse, where pointing at someone with your stick and saying two words can kill them instantly. That amount of power is amazing, sure, but doesn’t carry the same depth for me. In this respect, Voldemort is my favorite wizard in the whole series, because of how intense and tangible some of his protective enchantments can be (see the events of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince).
Now, this isn’t all to say that Harry Potter isn’t an engaging and diversely-characterized saga that fantasy fans will enjoy. But it’s rather grandiose scale seems to spend too much time relying on magic simply being magic. Entertaining, but not as intellectually satisfying as it could be. Lish McBride, by comparison, takes a very logical and structured approach to the arcane arts. The process through which Necromancy is learned and practiced is understandable to even new fantasy readers, creates a solid and consequential line between the boundaries of life and death, and humanizes several characters in it’s application. The story makes you care about the characters while using very proportionate stakes, and spends a good amount of time exploring the moral implications of the magics of life and death. For these reasons, I highly recommend both Hold Me Closer, Necromancer and the sequel Necromancing the Stone, which I had to buy immediately after finishing the first.