Amanda Downum – The Drowning City

I usually don’t pick up novels that have the word “necromancy” on them as I associate the word with undead characters or beings, something which I am not particularly interested in. In many cases it is a horror novel, which is a genre I usually avoid as I read to enjoy myself, not to get anxious, scared or feel disgusted. Not that an undead character popping into a story is a bad thing. As long as it remains a minor element it does not bother me. It is only when it is possibly a dominating theme in the story that I am dissuaded. So when I saw a novel with the subtitle The Necromancer Chronicles I quickly started doubting. However, this was one of the rare occasions that an excerpt of the novel at the end of one of an earlier novel I had read, had given me a different appraisal of the novel.  Of course that is the intention of the publisher, so even one of many being successful into persuading me to try the novel is already a win.

The aforementioned novel is called The Drowning City (2009) by Amanda Downum. The first thing that gave me a better perspective of the story was that it put a setting in a location that was similar to somewhere in southeast Asia. Such a setting is rather unusual in fantasy, so that made me interested in how Downum would present it. She did so quite well. It gave me the right vibe and she managed to keep it nondescript, making it hard to determine familiar elements that I might recognize. For one part this was also caused by a lack of description. The main character only visits a limited number of places so the reader only gets a limited view of those. Downum keeps the point of view narrow. If the character doesn’t pay attention to it, then she doesn’t tell more. Personally I don’t mind that as my own imagination fills in the details where I want them to be, although there could have been a bit more. The picture I could create of the setting remained incomplete.

Although there is a main character, there are some story threads involving minor characters. Although Downum tries to she did not entirely succeed in fleshing them out the extent that I got to care about them. This worked better with the main character, although as a heroine she did move around rather ineffectually, while she claims to be one of the best.

One thing I should not forget to mention is that the term “necromancer” is a bit too heavy as a word. In the story it is just someone who works sorcery through spirits in a wide range of ways. There is no real undead element which once again confirmed my right guess to pick this one up even though of the term. In fact the world the story takes place in has a strong spirit element, which makes it all relatively normal.

The story itself unfolds quickly. Downum wastes no time on introductions or foreplay. Nevertheless things are not rushed. Everything takes it time. Not that the story development is slow. Events run on every turn and plenty happens. The strange thing is that it doesn’t feel that way. Downum has a writing style that has a leisurely pace. In a way it expresses the warm humid climate the characters are in. The surprising thing is that it doesn’t take Downum many words to achieve this effect. It can easily be created by using many words to slow the reader down. Instead Downum uses very few words, allowing for a dual flow in the narrative.

The plot is not very complicated. Downum keeps things as down to earth as possible. Yes there is magic, but it does not dominate. It serves the story and most other things are not so different from normal situations. The characters may have abilities, they only give them an advantage in certain situations. In others they have to handle things no different than any other person.

I did not get particularly excited about The Drowning City. On the other hand it did not have real flaws either. I did enjoy the read. It is different from the usual fantasy fare although it does not take things on a weird or grand scale. It is a good novel, not exceptional although the usage of fantastical elements and the peculiar writing style in combination with the plot development do somewhat impress me. I certainly want to read more and although I have the next novel at hand, I have not felt inclined yet to start with it. Thus my mixed reaction. If it really had taken me, I would have continued reading the series. As I cannot really pinpoint real flaws or dislikes I can only conclude I was not entirely satisfied. The story did not grab me and I only really cared somewhat about the main character. All the others remained unsubstantial. Still I do would recommend this novel, but it would not be on top of any list.


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