Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2010. 343 pages.
2011 Morris Honor Book
I finally read this book as part of my Award Challenge — reading award winners and honor books — and because I have an Advance Reader Copy of its sequel, Necromancing the Stone.
This isn’t necessarily a book I would have read otherwise, since it is quite dark, with a grisly death and necromancers and a werewolf clan. However, once I got through the rather gruesome beginning, I found myself liking the characters and the light-hearted, humorous approach to this darkness.
Sam is a college drop-out working in a fast food joint, without a lot of prospects. He’s definitely surprised when he gets the attention of a seriously mean and scary man whose tail light he happened to break when playing potato hockey. When someone frighteningly strong beats him up after work and his friend’s head is sent to him in a box, well, he figures he can’t exactly ignore the problem.
He’s told he’s a necromancer, able to communicate with the dead. But why didn’t he know about it until now? And what does it have to do with the herbs his mother gave him to wear around his neck — the herbs that keep away nightmares?
It turns out that the necromancer who spotted him has plans for Sam that won’t be good for him. He’s also hiding a beautiful teenage werewolf in his basement. Sam needs to get enough information about who this necromancer is to be able to do something to stop him from killing Sam and stealing his power.
This is a surprisingly fun book about a good — but perhaps a bit irresponsible — kid thrown into some dark situations. Sam deals with them with humor and flair.
Here’s an early part where the author manages to put some humor into an awful situation:
I opened the box, then quickly dropped it and scrambled up onto the counter, making very dignified shrieking noises. Ramon stared. Frank came into the kitchen just in time to see the box bounce onto its side and its contents roll lazily out. Ramon tried to back up, but he was already against the wall. Frank managed a quick hop back as Brooke’s head rolled to a stop in the middle of the floor. It had already been severed cleanly at the neck, making her ponytail appear longer as it trailed behind like the tail on a grotesque comet. I couldn’t see any blood. In fact, the wound looked cauterized, which didn’t make it any more pleasant.
Nobody said a word.
Nobody except Brooke.
“Ow, cut it out, you guys!” Her blue eyes popped open and swung around until they found me. “Ugh, so not cool. Really, Sam. You don’t just drop somebody’s head. Especially a friend’s. Like being stuffed into a box and bounced around for an hour wasn’t bad enough.”
I screamed and grabbed a butter knife off the counter. I’m not sure what I planned to do with it, but in the meantime I held it in front of me just in case Brooke suddenly grew her body back and attacked. I mean, if she could talk, what was stopping her from leaping up and gnawing piranha-style on my ankels? Once a severed head talks, life’s possibilities seem endless.
Frank ran and hid in, I think, the bathroom. I heard some crashing noises that sounded like stuff being knocked around in my shower, anyway. Ramon slid behind the easy chair and hugged it, keeping his eyes on the head at all times. I think he’d stopped breathing. I crouched there, unmoving except for the shaking of my brandished butter knife, and stared at the head of a cute girl resting in the middle of the dirty linoleum of my kitchen floor. For some reason, I had the irrational thought of asking Mrs. Winalski whether or not this counted as having a girl in my apartment.
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