You know, sometimes I’m a whiner. I admit it. If there’s something in a book bothers me, I mention it. Something I think could be better in a story? It bubbles out. I’m just trying to stay honest, really. There’s a certain set of pieces that I think help make a story good. I also believe that you faithful readers share my opinion of at least part of that set. So when writing these responses, I always do my best to show you the playing field, lay out my set of rules, and then stay consistent from one review to the next. And then someone like Jesse Bullington comes along and shows me that, yes, sometimes, you can even break the big rules and still come out on the other side smelling like roses.
THE ENTERPRISE OF DEATH is Jesse Bullington’s second published novel, but it’s not the second book in a trilogy. Huzzah! Not only does Mr. Bullington stand out in this respect, but he pulls off a mean set of chops with some style as well. Between his photo and the sparse, rather gothic, cover art of the book, I had absopositutely no idea what to expect from this novel.
Awa is a Moorish slave, traveling with her mistress and mistress’s eunuch, when they are captured by a devious necromancer and, after her companions are killed, Awa is turned into an unwilling apprentice. The necromancer’s motives are, of course, devious, and we learn more of his magics and his desires as he tortures Awa to the best of his ability. Most of the story revolves around how Awa deals with her necromantic powers and the wiles of her teacher, though it does also revolve around her friends. Niklaus Manuel Deutsch of Bern is an artist turned mercenary, that he might have money with which to subsist and to paint, who has been called upon to deliver a witch to Spain. In little time, the paths of the two cross, and we are blessed because of it. There are also several other minor characters that play a part, though none of them for very long, and yet despite this I felt there was quite a bit of good characterization for all players introduced.
At first, I thought the story was going to be a historical fantasy, 16th century Europe and such. It certainly came across that way. There are so many elements that Bullington has woven into the tale that seem to come straight from the books: the monarchy, the cultures, the history, the religion, and the superstitions. Even some of the characters are plucked right from the pages. Yet, it didn’t feel like a historical fantasy to me. It was just a fantasy that had a lot of history built into it.
Bullington’s prose is easy to read. Quick. Funny. It had me hooked from just about the first page, but then he started jumping heads all over the place and that brought things to a screeching halt. Suddenly I had no idea what was going on or who was who, and I found myself reluctantly settling into my SufferingChair to wade through the confusion. I’ve mentioned before my difficulty in caring about stories that don’t keep some kind of limited perspective from the main characters. Thankfully, this trend didn’t continue. Though there was still considerable head-jumping throughout the novel, it was more akin to that found in Dune, if you’ve read that one (which you should have).
The pacing for most of the novel was lightning fast, though there was a section toward the middle that started to drag a little. This coincided with a part of the story that I didn’t really understand. There’s a timeline that gets hung over Awa’s head along the way, and in order to escape the consequence at the end of that timeline, she needs to accomplish a certain task. Well, to say the least, she doesn’t seem to try to be accomplishing that task with very much vigor, and the story suffers some for it. I really liked the conclusion though and in how it all wrapped up.
In the end, the story seemed to be about friendship, though it was littered with betrayal and hatred, with the grotesque and the creepy, with the weird and absolutely the unsettling. This is one of those novels that I think deserves a warning for the weak of constitution. This guy has put together a whole load of stuff that’ll make some of you squirm for a month. Others may never forget some of the twisted stuff Bullington throws around on the pages like a millionaire might his twenties. A good read, but just...yeah. :)
Recommended age: 18+, for the entire gamut
Language: Strong and frequent, occasionally distracting
Violence: Lotta peoples dying and being brought back to life and gory messes
Sex: Quite explicit in places, including several scenes mixed with the dead, and a high number of references in general
Jesse Bullington's Website