"Necromancer Rising" starts with Ezekiel coming to court to see the emperor and to bring back home the body of his dead sister. Honor was betrothed to Gabriel, the emperor´s son and heir to the throne. Approximately 250 years after the Scourge, as the apocalypse is called, society has denounced all technology and while the setting is an rather undefined leap forward in time, it feels like a step back a few hundred years. Religion dominates every day life, things like electricity are forgotten, and reading is not even common among the nobility, while the emperor is a patrimonial ruler.
Gabriel is however progressive in his world views with a slightly rebellious mind of his own, only waiting for the day to take over the empire from the hands of his father to change the world of his people.
Back to Honor. As it is no one has seen her dying, no one has seen her corpse and in fact no one is even able to locate her dead body.
Gabriel and Ezekiel both have their own dark secrets as they are gay, and that is not something society as a whole looks favorable upon. Alas the mutual attraction is a strong one even they have to keep up appearance for a while.
Which of course leads back to the religious domination of every day life by "Life" (pun intended) and the resemblances to today´s life and societes where homophobia is still very common. If it really should be read critically in connection to the real here and now of today I am uncertain but I definitely see the similarities how the after-Scourge society is presented. I shall leave it at that, though. ;-)
The revenants resemble something like zombies with a hunger for flesh. Resurrected corpses, dead yet still looking alive. They live outside the empire as outcasts even they can be useful for the common people as slave laborers, but only when dominated by a necromancer. Here Darius comes into play. There hasn´t been a necromancer in 50 years, why he is made into one by a powerful magician (?) is not quite clear yet. He was killed when fighting those revenants, but I suspect there must be more to it why he was choosen. Since it is so far the first installment out of six there is plenty of time to elaborate on this further, as it is obvious already that Darius will play an important role later on.
The dialogues between Gabriel and Ezekiel have almost some Shakespearean elements of a tragic comedy. There is betrayal, there is lust, there is power, with lengthy speeches full of wit and jest between the two of them, while any kind of (possible) action remains static. It is a back and forth between the two men while the reader (me) receives lots of information. More so then the protagonists themselves know.
Valerie Chambers, as the author, seems to be a little sceptical towards her own protagonists, not fully trusting their motives. Those dialogues have their funny moments of misunderstandings while especially Ezekiel is suspicious of Gabriel´s behavior. He could be a main suspect after all and the one who might have killed Honor. But this is of course only the beginning of their relationship, literally.
Since "Necromancer Rising" breaks conveniently (and deliberately) genre conventions it is a tough one to categorize. There is a mystery arc with the alleged death of Honor, a setting in the future which is really more those of a classical tragedy/drama with courts and an empire, the religious and pious life of nobility and the difference to the common people. And lets not forget the zombies plus a necromancer in the rising/making.
What is typical for a V.J. Chambers book are the characters, those flawed anti-heros/heroines. What is less typical is that there are no real main protagonists, but every one is - up to a degree - equally important. Ezekiel, Gabriel, Michal (his sister), the emperor (does he have a name?), Leah (Gabriel´s wife), Simon (Gabriel´s brother), Darius the necromancer and of course Honor.
However "Necromancer Rising" seems to mock the morality plays with their piety and personal morals of the protagonists who seek a virtuous life while being tempted by "evil", meaning the homosexuality of Ezekiel and Gabriel especially. (And yes, they kiss each other, and yes they have sex with each other.) There is also alot of symbolism in "Necromancer Rising", the bean in the necromancer cake as the most prominent example. Which reminds one of course of "The Princess And The Pea", even ironically it is the necromancer who is tested while Michal, the emperor´s daughter, is actually the test.
Narrated between alternating POVs it gives the story often a turnaround when V.J. Chambers says `boo´ with a grin. Sorry my friend, this is not the direction this story is going. Let us try something else, shall we? Oh yes, I imagine her having lots of fun while writing those scenes. A little bit on the mean side, teasing, constantly challenging the believes of not only her characters but also those of her readers. She is a bit of a trickster in her writing, and everything that happens should be taken with a grain of salt. It could be a red herring after all.
One small detail however I think is worth mentioning, namely that the religious group which dominates (Acceptance Is Transcendence) is called "Life", same as the sect in "Out Of Heaven´s Grasp". I see some similarities, even I am not completely sure yet that´s where it ends or if it is indeed a continuation. The world is a very different one after all, but it is possible due the time jump that there is a direct connection. Or maybe I simply interpret something into it which is not there, and never was intended to be interpreted that way. I shall, however, take a closer look at those, once the story progresses further.