ARC Review: Ward Against Death by Melanie Card
Author: Melanie Card
Book: Ward Against Death
Release: August 2, 2011
Series: Chronicles of a Reluctant Necromancer 1
Source: Entangled Puplishing
Twenty-year-old Ward de’Ath expected this to be a simple job—bring a nobleman’s daughter back from the dead for fifteen minutes, let her family say good-bye, and launch his fledgling career as a necromancer. Goddess knows he can’t be a surgeon—the Quayestri already branded him a criminal for trying—so bringing people back from the dead it is.
But when Ward wakes the beautiful Celia Carlyle, he gets more than he bargained for. Insistent that she’s been murdered, Celia begs Ward to keep her alive and help her find justice. By the time she drags him out her bedroom window and into the sewers, Ward can’t bring himself to break his damned physician’s Oath and desert her.
However, nothing is as it seems—including Celia. One second, she’s treating Ward like sewage, the next she’s kissing him. And for a nobleman’s daughter, she sure has a lot of enemies. If he could just convince his heart to give up on the infuriating beauty, he might get out of this alive…
I began this book having missed the fact that it was a cross over book, what I have learned is being called “New Adult” which is apparently a new sub-genre of “Young Adult.” Not young enough to be Young Adult and not adult enough to be Adult Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance. It lies somewhere in between.
The story is set in an alternate universe that seems to be at about a Georgian era technology level. There are men in powdered wigs, velvet coats for doctors, and proper ladies wear empire waist floor length dresses. Surgery is an illegal abomination, and necropsies on corpses carry heavy criminal penalties. What’s an aspiring surgeon to do?
Ward is the reluctant necromancer. He’s an awkward, 20ish guy who comes from a long line of necromancers, but he’d rather be a physician. In fact, what his heart and soul really feels called to is surgery, but society thinks very poorly of people who cut into humans, and more poorly still on people who steal corpses to learn how to cut into humans.
Poor Ward has had his share of problems. He’s had to make away in the night from more than one place due to his curiosity about the human body and his wish to be a surgeon. He’s been literally branded (by the psychic Quayestri, who are the equivalent of the police) a criminal, thrown out of medical school just before graduating, and has all but given up on his dream to be a legitimate physician. So, he’s turned to the only thing he knows how to do to scratch out his living, necromancy. But he’s still got his share of problems with the necromancy. You see, Ward can’t “feel” his magic working so he sort of fakes it ’til he makes it and this leaves him less than confident in his abilities.
In Ward’s world a “wake” is when a necromancer is called in to raise a person soon after their death. It only works for about 15 minutes and it’s the time when the family has the opportunity to say their good-byes. Sounds simple, right? Nothing is ever simple with Ward.
The book opens with Ward performing a wake for a young and beautiful daughter, Celia Carlyle, of a nobleman. Upon awakening she informs Ward that she was murdered (while refusing to believe that she’s actually dead) and invokes his physician’s oath to help anyone in need that asks, then she promptly jumps out of the window and runs away from her family. Ward gives chase, torn between his oath to assist, knowing if he doesn’t keep her awake she’ll just fall down dead at the end of her 15 minutes of fame, and a disconcerting and guilt ridden attraction to a woman he knows in his head is a corpse but the rest of his body isn’t convinced. When he looks up to realize he’s probably been thought to have stolen the body he also learns that the beauty’s father is not just a high ranking nobleman he’s also the head of the underworld, and beauty thinks her father killed her.
No wait! That’s just the first chapter. Believe it or not, the situation gets worse for Ward as the story progresses. It’s not a traditional “who-dun-it” in that we know who the bad guys are by the middle of the book. But what we don’t know is how the situation will resolve itself and Melanie Card keeps us biting nails until the end to find out how it turns out!
One of the things that I liked most about this read is that not only is the world richly detailed but Ms. Card lets the world unfold as she tells the story, rather than trying to set it all up for us before giving us the story. At first it’s a bit awkward feeling because the world is so very different, not just in its Georgian feel and fashion, but society’s religion is based on Goddess and her two sons worship, magic is a known and accepted fact of life and part of the social hierarchy, and still with all of that it’s a very puritanical sort of attitude that drives this society. It’s difficult to sum up briefly. Like the book does, the world has to unfold for the reader to really embrace the flavor of it.
I have to admit that it took me a very long time to warm up to Celia. She’s tough, much more tough than we realize at first, but she’s also quite cold and hard. I don’t just mean that she’s dead, she’s got more than her own share of secrets and she’s not very likeable until quite late in the story. But Ward likes her, he likes her a lot. The truth is that she is in a lot of trouble, trouble that is far reaching, and our hero is a much stronger necromancer than he realizes; Celia may be with us for some time yet and despite her own drama and condescension she is warming up to Ward.
By the end of the book it’s apparent that not only is this a wonderfully self contained story, but it’s also a foundational book for what I think will be a very engaging series. The world is rich, the characters slowly reveal themselves to be multi-layered and multi-faceted, and in this book alone Ms. Card proves that she can spin a tale full of surprises that will keep you guessing. My guess is that we’re going to watch Ward grow from being an awkward, reluctant and unsure young man to a very powerful necromancer and much sought after physician; he may even be instrumental in bringing about a change in attitude about surgery. We’re only one book in and I find I’m already hoping so for Ward’s sake. I also predict there will be a lot of bumps along the way. I, for one, am looking forward to sharing the ride with Ward.
Also Reviewed By: Sizzling Hot Book Reviews