Guest Review: FINN FANCY NECROMANCY by Randy Henderson (Tor/Titan)

HendersonR-FinnFancyNecromancyUSReviewed by Ryan Frye

Finn Gramaraye was framed for the crime of dark necromancy at the age of fifteen, when the surviving victim of a dark ritual was found in his bedroom. Convicted and exiled to the Other Realm for twenty-five years — twenty-five years as a disembodied soul, tormented by the Others — Finn is now being set free. But his return is met by a magical attack on his escorts, and Finn is framed again for dark necromancy.

Finn has only a few days to discover who is so desperate to keep him out of the mortal world, and find enough evidence to prove it to Arcane Enforcers who already view him as a criminal.

Unfortunately, his family are little help. Father has become a mad magical inventor. Brother Mort fears that Finn wants to take over the family business.  Sister Sammy is now a jaded hacker allergic to magic. And simple but sweet brother Pete still believes he’s a werewolf because of a childhood dog bite, yet wants Finn to help him find a girlfriend.

Finn is joined by Zeke, a former Arcane Enforcer and fellow exile seeking to prove himself worthy of returning to duty — even if that means proving Finn guilty. Together, they will battle magical creatures, family drama, and the challenges of Finn’s love life as they race to solve the mystery of who wants Finn returned to exile, and why.

Finn Fancy Necromancy is a book that came in completely under my 2015 “Hey that looks good I should check it out” radar. However, when I read the blurb I was sucked in, and accordingly bumped it up the reading pile for rapid deployment. Like many Urban Fantasies, this one features a first person perspective and a fast paced plot. Henderson doesn’t waste any time in ratcheting up the action and adventure. We first meet the titular character, Finn as he is being released from twenty-five years’ worth of magical exile. He’s been cut off from the world since 1985, so as you can imagine, he has lots of catching up to do.

Upon his return, Finn is immediately framed for another crime that will certainly put him back into exile unless he can somehow prove his innocence. This crime he’s been framed for sets up all the action for the remainder of the book, and since this all goes down in the very early stages of the narrative; it gives the book a breakneck pace which makes the pages just fly by.

Though I love a good page-turner (who doesn’t?), the pacing of Finn Fancy Necromancy led to the book’s greatest weakness: its lack of strong character development. Though I got a strong sense of Finn’s character, since the whole narrative is seen though his eyes, I felt that the rest of the cast was not very well developed. Finn’s family members, and the other principle characters like Zeke, felt one-dimensional. They all seemed like they were one-trick ponies. There was the sassy one, the lovable oaf, the jealous one, the tough-guy, the weirdo, and so on… The book and the characters would have benefitted from a more nuanced approach to character development.

HendersonR-FinnFancyNecromancyUKOn the flip side, one way Finn Fancy Necromancy excels is with its strong sense of humor. Often humor doesn’t translate well for me in books, but in this case there was no problem. There’s a big helping of ’80s-related humor and jokes, which I really enjoyed and other children of the ’80s will enjoy as well. This aspect of the book reminded me of the fantastic Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Except, in this case, Henderson’s ’80s references are less obscure, and for my money, more funny. The dialogue is quite sharp and often funny as well. Henderson proves to have a deft hand with the jokes, making for an amusing read.

Another aspect I enjoyed is the setting. The book’s events take place in the western part of Washington State, my home for the past twelve years. I might be slightly biased, here, but I will say that Western Washington with its epic coastline, giant rainforests, snowcapped mountains, and damp weather is a fantastic place to set a story about a secret magical society. It wasn’t much of a stretch of the imagination to picture gnomes and sasquatches wreaking havoc in the forests or for families of witches to be living in the giant Victorian style mansions that pop up in the small coastal towns. It is always fun to have a familiarity with the setting of the novel, and in this case I think Henderson choice of locale was spot on.

That being said, I still found myself wanting to know more about this hidden-in-plain-sight magical society that Henderson created. I felt like I got a just a little taste, but not enough to satisfy my curiosity. Henderson laid out the bare bones, but for my preferences, the magic wasn’t explained well enough so that I could get a firm grasp on how the various schools of magic were used, what the limitations were and so on. This made the magic and it’s usage feel a bit arbitrary which in turn took away from my enjoyment a bit.

In the end, Finn Fancy Necromancy was an up and down read for me. There was plenty to like, but also key areas where the book was lacking, which took away from the overall reading experience. This is Henderson’s debut novel, so some flaws are to be expected. This is still a very enjoyable read, and based on its merits, its strong sense of humor being its best, many readers will come away as happy customers.

*

Randy Henderson‘s Finn Fancy Necromancy is published in North America by Tor Books and in the UK by Titan Books. It is out now.

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