The Enterprise of Death, by Jesse Bullington
Posted October 27, 2011on:
published in March 2011
Where I got it: the library
why I read it: covered in alchemical symbols, how could I not read it?
This book was absolutely disgusting. At times gut bustingly funny, and often intriguingly mysterious, it was still pretty disgusting. Weak stomachs need not apply, especially if reading about necrophilia obsessed necromancers didn’t make your bucket list.
The geography at the beginning of the book is purposely a little fuzzy, because as a Harem slave, young Awa is quite ignorant of where she lives (Somewhere in Northern Africa is a good guess). While she and another house slave are escorting their Mistress Omorose to her new home, bandits strike, and the threesome never makes it where they are going. Kidnapped by undead bandits and brought to a mountaintop (possibly in Andalusia?) the three offered a choice: become the apprentices of the necromancer who lives there, or die. Only Awa survives.
Years pass. Awa learns the arts of the necromancer. She grows up unaware of Renissance Europe, unaware of the Inquisition and the punishments exacted on witches. It’s not long before Awa accidentally uses her newly gained knowledge to do something unspeakable to Omorose’s raised corpse, and soon after she is cursed by the Necromancer. Could her life possibly get any worse? Omorose wants to kill her, and the Necromancer’s curse states that in 10 years he will return to obliterate Awa’s soul, but in that time frame the dead can not harm her.
And thus, Awa’s life story begins. She escapes from the mountaintop to be captured by witch hunting mercenaries. The lead bounty hunter, Manuel, is an artist, and only does this mercenary gig when the art commissions don’t pay the bills. He doesn’t want to turn her in, he doesn’t want to hurt her, all Manuel wants to do is draw her, paint her, immortalize Awa’s Moorish, witchy beauty.
Being chased by the Inquisition and Manuel’s former employers, Awa, Manuel, and the mannish Monique attempt to get back to Manuel’s family in Bern. That’s where his art studio and his patrons are. The conversations between these three while on the road are hilarious. Manuel, a good, God-fearing man, makes most of his money selling nude drawings to priests. Monique’s tomboy-ness and obsession with guns and gunpowder confuse the male soldiers around her. The two of them can’t understand how Awa could be anything but a God-fearing Christian, and Awa can’t understand why they think killing people on a battlefield is wonderful, but what she does is horrible. Did I say these conversations were hilarious? I should have said hilarious and thought provoking.
But Awa has only 10 years to break the Necromancer’s curse. It’s been eight, and then it’s been nine. None of the corpses she raises across Europe know anything about how to break the curse or where to find the Necromancers blood and skin book. And worse, Omorose still wants her revenge. Awa is too wracked with guilt over what she did to Omorose that she doesn’t realize her life couldn’t possibly get much worse. When Awa meets the Hyena monster, I was introduced to the scariest freakin’ monster ever.
Who will win? Awa or Omorose? Or the Necromancer? Part of the curse is that the dead can’t harm Awa, but that doesn’t stop Omorose from finding a living army than can. And don’t forget the Necromancer, who will be back any day to claim Awa’s soul.
I was suprised how long it took me to read this book. Plenty of snarky dialog, lots of action, buckets and buckets of sex and even more swearing (Oh, I didn’t mention that? Wow is there a lot of sex in this book, and some of it very hot!), sounds like I’d love it, right? Dragged down by Awa’s anxious and sometimes repetitive internal monologues and then focused on Monique’s brothel business venture, I often worried if Bullington was ever going to get back to Awa’s original quest. Perhaps that was his way of showing how hard she was trying to avoid it? Regardless, I do wish the plot had flowed a little smoother. I wanted more between Awa and the Necromancer, I wanted more about his blood and skin book, I wanted more of that, and I don’t feel like I got it.
The disgusting didn’t bother me much, all the corpse raising and romances with the dead, Monique’s and Manuel’s unexpected predilections, but I can see how some readers would be put off. If you can make it through the first 50 pages or so, you’ll be fine, or at least desensitized.
Singularly original, situationaly hilarious and thought provoking, The Enterprise of Death isn’t for everyone. But if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, something that pushes the boundaries, give it a try.