Guest Post: When the Dead Just Won’t Stay Down

Guest Post: When the Dead Just Won’t Stay Down by Gail Z. Martin

Dying might be the only way to ever get free of your cell phone. So far, neither  Verizon Wireless nor Vodaphone have come up with a signal that can reach across the River Styx.

It’s not for lack of trying. I suspect that people have been trying to talk to the dead and bring them back to life since the very first death. Some want to reunite with loved ones. Others want the secrets the dead took with them to their grave, or want to enslave them for labor or armies. Whatever the reason, necromancy—magic that gives the user power over the dead—never goes out of style.

For someone who’s pretty normal (twitch, twitch), I spend a lot of time thinking about necromancy. My first epic fantasy series was the Chronicles of the Necromancer. The main character, Tris Drayke, learns that he is a Summoner, with the ability to intercede between the living and the dead, and he has to learn to control that magic before it destroys him in order to avenge his family.

Over the course of the four books in the Chronicles series and two more in the Fallen Kings Cycle, Tris becomes the most powerful necromancer of his generation. Along the way, I had to figure out how to create a system of magic that was believable and yet breathtaking in its power. 

In my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, Tormod Solveig is a necromancer, and his take on the magic comes with a whole different sensibility and set of moral constraints than Tris’s magic did.

In my Deadly Curiosities series, all manner of evil nasties want to get their hands on human souls or use the dark magic generated by shedding blood to increase their own power. Not only that, but since I draw on Voudon (what Hollywood calls Voodoo) in the series, we run into supernatural figures like Baron Samedi and his Ghedes, beings that escort souls into the afterlife. And even in the new Iron and Blood series which I’m co-writing with my husband, Larry N. Martin, there are resurrectionists who want to pick up where Dr. Frankenstein left off.

I don’t think it’s an accident that Mary Shelley and the novel Frankenstein is often hailed as the originator of the science fiction genre. Our desire to raise and control the dead is very primal. For one thing, no one really wants to die. So if we can validate what lies beyond, we remove the fear and mystery from death. And if we can control resurrection, we become gods.

Or not. Tris Drayke struggles with how to use his necromancy and remain a Light mage. He learns that there are rules to using his power which he cannot break at the risk of his own soul. One of those rules is that a spirit cannot be forced to return, and that it is immoral to force a spirit back into a rotting corpse. Spirits may not be enslaved. Corpses should be treated with respect. On the other hand, he also finds that the dead have their own agendas, and he must be wary of spirits who would seek to control him or trick him into doing harm. And more than once, Tris discovers that old grudges, deep-felt emotions and loyalty transcend death, making the dead powerful allies if they can be won to the cause.

The peril of necromancy is also clear in the Chronicles books. The Obsidian King, a necromancer from a prior generation, gave in to the lust for power and not only paid with his life and soul, but plunged the kingdom into a devastating war. Blood mages use minor necromancy to torment and bind spirits. In The Dread, Tris comes up against Scaith, an enemy necromancer who allows no constraints on his magic, giving Tris the choice between compromising his own soul and honor and protecting his kingdom.

Tormod Solveig, whom we meet in War of Shadows, the third book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, plays by different rules. He has no compunctions about raising corpses like puppets in the midst of battle, using the reanimated dead as shock troops in battle, or compelling the spirits of dead warriors to fight on his behalf.

In Deadly Curiosities, both the book and the short story series, we run into a number of creatures that can manipulate the dead. Voudon loas like Baron Samedi and Papa Legba open and close the gateway to the afterlife, and a person does not die, it’s said, unless the Baron consents to dig his grave. The short story Wicked Dreams involves someone trying to control the spirits of the dead with blood magic, and we’ll run into people with necromancy and spirit magic in the second book of the series as well.

Since the steampunk era gave us the scientific version of necromancy in Frankenstein, it only seemed fitting to revisit resurrectionists in Iron and Blood. Grave robbing as big during the Victorian era, as were clandestine experiments on corpses as doctors tried to gain forbidden knowledge. Our two mad doctors, who make an appearance both in the upcoming novel and in the short story, Resurrection Day, attempt to create clockwork copses with horrific results.

Necromancy and the line between the living and the dead will intrigue storytellers as long as there are people telling stories. So stoke up the fire, gather round, and let’s tell some scary tales about people who just won’t stay dead.

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for stories and books by author friends of mine. And, a special 50% off discount from Double-Dragon ebooks! You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here:

Trick or Treat: Enjoy an excerpt from The Summoner, Book One in my Chronicles of the Necromancer series here:

And a second bonus excerpt from Wicked Dreams, one of my Deadly Curiosities Adventures short stories here:


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