Rating: 5 stars
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Alter (Al) Skelton is just like any other 15-year old who is obsessed with death. He has a purple and black bedroom full of skulls, walls decorated with Day of the Dead posters, and a vent where he hides all his copies of Raising the Dead from Cemetery Comics. Shortly after his 15th birthday, Al sends away for a copy of Necromancy and You with a coupon out of the back of his comic along with the box tops from three boxes of Count Chocula cereal. The book he receives in the mail is so much more than he expected. Instead of a paperback, Al gets a heavy leather bound book addressed to him and immediately his life starts to change dramatically.
From the moment Al starts to read the book, he realizes something is weird. The spells in the book are working for him as a disastrous incident in his science lab demonstrated. Al can raise the dead. Now he’s a boy with a plan. That plan? To raise his dead father and get his family back together. But so many obstacles block his path. The man his mother is dating is hateful and abusive; too bad he is also Al’s psychiatrist. An evil group called the Coalition operates a school for Necromancers and they will do everything in their power to bring Al into their fold. Suddenly Al’s world is full of ghouls, ghosts, vampires, and talking dead frogs. What’s a young budding necromancer to do when danger is all around him in a world turned more dark and scary than usual?
Missouri Dalton has created an instant classic for older teens and adults alike with Necromancy and You, the second story in the Guidebook series. Never have I been so enthralled by a young 15-year old like Al Skelton. As created by Dalton, Al is a brilliant, depressed social outcast, who lives for his Raising the Dead comics and memories of his old family life. His father died five years before when Al was 10, an event that happened while his dad was away on business so Al never got to say goodbye. Since then, his mother has turned cold and distant, spending all her time either at work or with her new boyfriend, a sadistic man who also happens to be Al’s psychiatrist. With his present life a nightmare, Al would like nothing better than his family back together again, happy and whole, an impossibility considering his dad is dead. If this description starts to conjure up visions of Harry Potter, then yes, there are similarities. But for me, I find Al Skelton far more interesting and quite a bit darker. He is also far more sarcastic and self aware than Harry seemed to be. But I guess that comes with being a necromancer, albeit a budding one, as well as being a bit of a smartmouth.
Dalton’s narrative is so clever, so enthralling, and her main character so charismatic and appealing that I was pulled in instantly, immediately hooked on Dalton’s world building and Al’s life. Oh the life of a teenager at 15, it’s such a tough one. Hormones are raging, poised between child and adult, the world can be a harsh place, especially if that teenager is just a little different from everyone else. Dalton takes this truism and gives us a darker version. Al doesn’t just think everyone is out to get him, they really are. Lonely, upset and missing his father and the way his family used to be? That should sound familiar to any number of kids these days. And if the normal world is scary place for them, what would happen if you then find out that vampires, ghouls, zombies and ghosts are real and you are not quite human?
Lucky for us, we get to find out as Al goes from normal teen to powerful necromancer and beyond. This is how it all starts:
When the package arrived, that clear crisp morning on the twenty-third of October, I knew it would be a good day. The package was green, vibrant and shiny, tied with black string. The address label was white with black letters that spelled my name.
215 Bridge Lane
Verity, IL 34055
It was a package I’d been waiting for seven weeks and three days. Waiting ever since I mailed in the coupon out of the back of Raising the Dead along with the box tops from three boxes of Count Chocula cereal. The ad had caught my attention immediately, gleaming on the slightly thicker glossy paper of the back cover, in bright green and black and white.
Learn to control the forces of life and death! This book will change your life!
I knew in a heartbeat I would do anything to get my hands on it. So despite my normal tendency toward not eating breakfast, I ate it. I also started to act less strange around my mother to decrease suspicion. And now, on a Saturday morning, I had my book.
I took the parcel immediately to my room. My mother was out shopping, so I had a good couple hours to peruse the book before shoving it behind the vent cover where I kept my issues of Raising the Dead and the pornographic magazine Tommy had foisted on me after his mother started cleaning his room again.
And then later on, once Al is safely in his room:
I cleared the detritus off of my bed, mostly clothes, and unwrapped the parcel.
The book was heavy, and as I tore away the paper, I noticed it was not the paperback copy I’d expected from the photo in the back of the comic. The cover, by the feel, was leather, black. On the very front there was incised decoration: bright green lines indented as a border around a white skull that felt and looked like bone. Over the skull, in silver lettering, was the title.
Necromancy and You!
Underneath the skull was a secondary title. From A to Zombie
There was no author listed. On the interior page was a notation.
A Stone House publication copyright 1344. Do not redistribute. Books sold without covers are considered stripped books; the house nor the author receives payment. Please refrain from purchasing stripped books.
And on the next page.
Welcome, young master! You have chosen to take the first step in a wonderful journey! Herein are the methods, practices, and rules of the way of Necromancy! Please read the entire first chapter thoroughly before proceeding to the Practical Applications to ensure safety!
Well. Safety was important. One wouldn’t want to raise anyone on accident or anything. No need to get the neighborhood riled with corpses walking about. Or skeletons. Or both.
No, secrecy was key here.
The neighbors were too nosy as it was. Then again, so was my mother.
And from the moment Al opens the book and begins to read, his journey (and ours) has started. There is no going back, not that he would want to of course, at least in the beginning. Al has a unique voice, it’s quirky, it self effacing and it definitely belongs to a teenager. It has just that right amount of young perspective and cluelessness while still sounding aware and confident. How I love this boy. Al is also remarkably resilient and he has to be. Because before him are so many unpleasant truths about his world and horrifying events to cope with that the ability to take such things in stride is necessary for his survival.
Along his journey he also meets a cadre of remarkable personalities and creatures, some friend, some foe, and some just well….we just don’t know where they stand. But all of them are exquisitely created. They team with life or unlife (!) as the case may be. Some are personalities that we have met already in Vampirism and You, including that m/m couple of foster vampire Duncan and 17-year-old Louis. They loom large in Al’s future but more than that I won’t say. You will have to discover the details for yourself. All the characters involved are memorable, some charming, some chilling and several downright evil. But no matter what side they fall on, good or bad, they are all believable and realistic right down to the smallest detail.
Dalton moves her narrative along at a swift and smooth pace and you will want to scamper along with her, wanting to rush to see where the plot is taking Al and you next. But slow down, don’t miss any of the details, even the ones that seem so insignificant. There is so much layering here, of plot twists, relationship dynamics, family dynamics, young love (more on that later), the trials and tribulations of growing up….you name it and Dalton has incorporated it into her story. But Dalton does so effortlessly, her narrative never feeling jumbled up or dense. Really, this is an outstanding book in a remarkable series.
There are some things that should be noted. Necromancy and You, as well as the Guidebook series are categorized as a YA book, a category I do agree with, with one limitation. I don’t feel it is appropriate for anyone under the age of 15 (Al’s age). While a kiss between the hero and heroine is the sexiest this gets, there are mild suggestive comments for the sexual activities of a few other couples. Nothing explicit, nothing even major, but its there. My limitations pertaining to age is more along the lines of the traumatic events that occur. Al is hurt numerous times and, while we are spared the details, it happens and younger children might be upset. People die and there are other potentially violent scenes. They are necessary for the book and work beautifully within the narrative. Most of the violence is “off stage” as it were, but the emotional impact is huge. These events are as beautifully constructed as the rest of the story so yes, you will feel them just as Al does. This is an emotionally moving, heartfelt and heartrending story. It has the power to bring tears to your eyes even as they are rolling down our hero’s face.
In addition to giving us an intrepid young man, Dalton gives us an equally resourceful heroine. This is a minor romance happening within the storyline. Al is straight and there is a slight romance starting here. One that I suspect will grow over the course of the series, along with that of our m/m couple, Louis and Duncan. Again, like every other teenager, young love finds a way, no matter your sexual preference. But this series is geared towards suspense and mystery of the supernatural kind. The romances that occur are secondary to the main focus of the series, a battle brewing against good and evil, that eternal conflict with surprising elements to each side. I wanted to order print copies immediately and go running along crowded sidewalks, passing them out and yelling at them to “read this book”!!!!! Teenagers, young adults, old adults, and everyone in between needs to read this book, invest themselves in the series.
As you may have guessed, I enthusiastically recommend this book and this series. I will leave you with a few thoughts from Al himself:
I just couldn’t take normal life seriously.
“Mr. Skelton, are you paying attention?”
“Good, then you can complete the problem on the board.”
Do. Not. Kill.
That should not be anyone’s daily mantra.
While it may not be ours, I love that it is Al’s. Run, fly, do whatever you have to do, but get this book!
Here is the Guidebook stories in the order they were written:
- Vampirism and You
- Necromancy and You