As the witch-pyres of the Spanish Inquisition blanket Renaissance Europe in a moral haze, a young African slave finds herself the unwilling apprentice of an ancient necromancer. Unfortunately, quitting his company proves even more hazardous than remaining his pupil when she is afflicted with a terrible curse. Yet salvation may lie in a mysterious tome her tutor has hidden somewhere on the war-torn continent.
She sets out on a seemingly impossible journey to find the book, never suspecting her fate is tied to three strangers: the artist Niklaus Manuel Deutsch, the alchemist Dr. Paracelsus, and a gun-slinging Dutch mercenary. As Manuel paints her macabre story on canvas, plank, and church wall, the young apprentice becomes increasingly aware that death might be the least of her concerns.
A Moorish slave cast out of her Spanish home by war, Awa is captured by a necromancer who forces her to learn his skills. When she eventually flees, she discovers the necromancer placed a curse on her that will destroy her soul in 10 years' time unless she can find his book of secrets, which could be hidden anywhere in the world. During her quest, Awa befriends Manuel, a painter-turned-mercenary; Monique, a lesbian gunsmith-turned-madam; and others both dead and undead. Bullington (The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart) bounces almost giddily between gruesome and tongue-in-cheek, from more horrific aspects of raising the dead to the odd problems faced by a necromancer with a conscience. Spiritual terror, Awa's star-crossed loves, and Manuel's guilt over becoming a mercenary to pay for art supplies are all grist for a relentless dark humor blended with occasional tragedy.
Not for the faint of heart...
This is one of my favorite books in the past few years. Bullington does an excellent job of conjuring up a unique perspective on Medieval/Fantasy lore. That said, for those unfamiliar with Bullington's previous work, this book is definitely not for the faint of heart. His writing is very visceral and intense (some may even say mecky), and the story can become very obscene at times; however, through it all he manages to create characters and a story that are truly interesting and engaging.
This book is hard to put down, and I highly recommend it!